A rough picture of my marketing system for Ben Franklin Labs

A common problem for freelancers/consultants is the “boom or bust” nature of freelancing. You oscillate between too much work and too little. I believe this is a fixable problem, and I think the answer to this problem is probably a solid marketing system that has been tested and proven to consistently bring in new work.

I think the most ideal possible marketing system is one that somehow operates without any involvement from the business owner. I realize that’s not realistic, but it’s the end of the spectrum toward which I’m always trying to head. The other extreme end of the marketing system spectrum is a “system” that’s nothing but desperate, frenzied cold-calling.

What I do think is realistic is a marketing system that’s comprised of activities and assets where the assets are continually becoming more and more valuable and effective and the activities are continually becoming easier, more enjoyable and less time-intensive. For example, attending a Chamber of Commerce meeting is a marketing activity. When I meet someone, I hand him or her my business card which is a marketing asset. My card may send my new friend to my business’s website which is another marketing asset. The more effective my business card and business website are at getting any particular prospect to know, like and trust me, the less time and effort are needed on my part to achieve the know/like/trust thing.

So activities are gradually replaced by assets. But in the beginning I didn’t really have any marketing assets, so all I could start with was activities. Below is a list of my different marketing tactics which are each a mix of activities and assets. Below is my first-ever attempt to document my marketing system for Ben Franklin Labs, so consider it a first draft. Both the marketing system itself and this written representation of the marketing system have huge room for improvement, but I hope this snapshot of where I stand in October 2014 is somewhat useful/interesting.

Attending networking groups

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: 5+ (don’t know exactly)
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: I’ve been attending between 0 and 3 Chamber of Commerce events per month since I joined in spring 2014. I’ve also been randomly attending some other events, including a BNI group and a couple BNI-copycat groups. I plan to join the BNI group.
Funnel steps: meet a member, chat about business, follow-up email, one-on-one meeting, then either a) sales meeting(s) then engagement start or b) referral to someone else who has a need.

Attending local tech meetups (sometimes as a presenter, sometimes not)

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: at least a couple (don’t know exactly)
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 1
Description: I’ve been attending the GrWebDev meetup and the Grand Rapids Ruby Meetup, both somewhat sporadically. I’ve been plugged into this “scene” forever and so I’m pretty well-connected with the people who come to these meetings.
Funnel steps: meet a member, chat about web development, see each other around multiple times, maybe be seen when I’m presenting, get an email saying the person’s company needs a developer and asking about my availability

Attending tech conferences

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: 1
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 1
Description: Every year since 2012 (so 3 times) I’ve gone to Windy City Rails. Every time I go I make a few more solid connections (and strengthen existing ones) and I also get pushed forward a little as an engineer. I go to WCR because it’s within driving distance. I think I should probably be going to more like 2-3 tech conferences per year rather than just one.
Funnel steps: meet an attendee, chat about web development and probably career, follow-up email, maybe ask the new friend for a referral, maybe receive an inquiry email later down the road

Public technical writing

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: none yet
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: I’ve been producing technical content for a number of outlets: BenFranklinLabs.com, AngularOnRails.com and a couple of other business’ sites. AngularOnRails.com is where I’ve put most of my content in 2014. Both AoR and BFL get good organic search traffic (1000+ clicks per month). AoR has gotten more attention, having been featured in Ruby Weekly and JavaScript Weekly. (At least I’m pretty sure it’s been in both. I get the two mixed up. It’s at least been in one multiple times.) I’ve also been in Ruby Weekly and/or JavaScript Weekly for the content I’ve written for other people’s sites. Some of my articles have gotten passed around on Twitter quite a bit, and at least two have reached the first page of Hacker News. I think my biggest couple days ever were about 5000 visits each. Although my writing seems to have gotten a relatively large amount of attention, I haven’t yet gotten a single lead from it. The reason for that could be that I haven’t yet put more than about 30 minutes of effort into trying to build a funnel around my writing.
Funnel steps: visitor reads a few articles over time, sends inquiry about my availability (this funnel has never worked and is probably naive and probably needs some more thinking put behind it)

“Staying in touch”

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: none yet
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: I’m not sure what a good label for this tactic would be, but every month or so I go through my CRM and reach out to people I haven’t talked to in a while. I might just send a quick email asking how things are going. I might share a resource. I might invite the person to lunch, coffee, or some other kind of in-person meeting.
Funnel steps: I engage with the person however many times, then eventually the person sends me either a referral or asks me him- or herself about a potential project.

Referrals

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: can’t remember – I think 3
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 1
Description: Referrals can of course be solicited or unsolicited. Sometimes during my “staying in touch” rounds I ask for referrals. Sometimes people send me referrals out of the blue. My understanding and expectation concerning referrals is that they’ll naturally become more numerous as my list of contacts and list of clients and past clients grows, although it would definitely also be good to put some sort of formal referral system in place.
Funnel steps: I ask for a referral and get one, or a referral comes to me unsolicited.

Talent marketplaces

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: 10+, don’t know exactly
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 1
Description: I haven’t done a lot of this so far. Talent marketplaces vary widely in quality. What I mean by talent marketplace is something like ODesk (at the shitty end of the spectrum) or AirPair (at the totally awesome end of the spectrum). AirPair has sporadically sent me “expert requests” throughout the year and I’ve done a few mentoring sessions with them. The work is easy and can pay well, although so far it seems like only a good source of supplemental income, a “side dish” as opposed to a “main course”.
Funnel steps: I get an “expert request” email, I respond to it with my pitch and availability, the prospect books a session with me

Engaging with recruiters

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: dozens, maybe hundreds, mostly low-quality
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 1
Description: I’m constantly getting emails and phone calls from recruiters. Most of these leads are junk. Most of them are for either full-time permanent positions or “staff aug” positions where you’re technically a contractor but you have to commit to 12 months and work in the office (which would usually mean out-of-state relocation), and the only difference between doing that and being an employee is you maybe get paid a little more. And my rate these days is almost always way higher than staffing agencies can afford to pay, so I almost never engage with recruiters. But once in a while it works. Just last week I accepted an offer from a recruiter where all the factors came together in just the right way for it to make sense for all three parties (myself, the staffing agency and the client). This kind of thing is super rare, though.
Funnel steps: recruiter calls and/or emails me, I respond, we have some interviews, we do some negotiation, I get an offer

Job boards

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: dozens (haven’t kept track because I’m stupid)
Number of engagements won through this tactic: 4
Description: Job boards for me include craigslist, WeWorkRemotely.com, and this service called Workshop where I get a daily email with a curated list of job board leads. It’s pretty simple: I scan the job boards and send pitches. With 4 engagements won through this tactic it’s been my most “successful” marketing tactic so far, but it’s kind of a lame marketing tactic. It’s time-consuming and the prospects tend to be looking for “commodity developers”, meaning the prospect has a very rigid range of compensation they’re willing to consider. It’s also a 100% “me-chase-them” marketing tactic as opposed to a “they-chase-me” tactic. I intend to eventually outgrow this tactic. The good thing about job boards, though, is that there’s not much system-building necessary in order for it to work. You can just go try to find a client. But this also means there’s more competition from other vendors and more noise on the prospect’s end.
Funnel steps: I send my pitch, prospect responds with questions or to schedule a conversation, we talk, we start the project

Twitter

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: a few (don’t know exactly)
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: Every once in a while I’ll search Twitter for “looking for rails”, “looking for angular”, “seeking rails”, etc. Sometimes the tweets that come up are promising, like “Looking for a Rails developer IMMEDIATELY. Email me at johnsmith@example.com”. I’ve generated some promising conversations this way, although no projects won yet. Twitter as a lead source has many of the same problems as job boards, so I plan to also outgrow this tactic eventually.
Funnel steps: I respond to the call for a developer, prospect responds with questions or to schedule a conversation, we talk, we start the project

Email newsletter

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: none yet
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: I have a list of about 30 or so people who have opted into my newsletter. They’re almost all local, and if I recall correctly they’re mostly business owners. (I should probably have a better handle on who’s on my list.) For a while I was pretty good at sending my newsletter but for the last few months I’ve been totally sucking at it.
Funnel steps: newsletter subscriber receives the newsletter however many times (and maybe responds to questions in the newsletter emails), then sends a referral or inquires about an engagement, either unprompted or as a response to a direct offer or request for a referral

Casual conversations throughout the normal course of life

Number of leads generated from this tactic so far: none that I can recall (at least not in 2014)
Number of engagements won through this tactic: none yet
Description: Zig Ziglar said “always be prospecting”. So I am. I almost always carry at least a couple business cards with me in my wallet, and I meet people in my day-to-day life with surprising frequency whose lives in some way “touch” what I do professionally. I’m very conscious not to go into “sales mode” with people at inappropriate times, but there’s of course a difference between trying to sell to everyone with a pulse and a wallet and simply keeping your eyes open for when legitimate opportunities present themselves.
Funnel steps: meet someone at a party/grocery store/dark alley, talk about something to do with business or computers, get to know each other over time, the person asks me if I’d be available to do a project

3 thoughts on “A rough picture of my marketing system for Ben Franklin Labs

  1. Jim

    Thanks for sharing, Jason!
    Can you elaborate on the quality of leads and projects from each source?
    Quantity won’t necessarily translate to success if it’s of low quality.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Issue #3 - October 31th, 2014 - Freelance Chi

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