Regardless of your field, there is one universal rule for a successful small business: keep a healthy flow of new leads flowing into your marketing funnel. Though it’s imperative that you maintain existing clients (more on that later), it’s only natural that some customers will move on, thus leaving a conspicuous gap in your workflow.

There are hundreds of websites that claim to have the answer to your lead generation needs. But they are also usually promoting their software or service as the antidote to your problems. In this article, we will offer simple, impartial, (mostly) free methods to find a larger audience for your product or service, using minimal business jargon. Many of these tips are targeted to freelancers or small businesses with a pre-existing website. While they are not absolutely necessary, depending on the size of your business, a strong website can vastly increase your visibility and with services like Squarespace and Weebly, building one has never been easier.

If you’re not ready to take that step, that’s okay. We will discuss effective ways to build your brand without a website and the headaches that accompany it. Don’t panic at the mention of SEO. It’s not half as complicated as most marketers make it sound.

Get to know your customer base

This might sound obvious but it’s shocking how many freelancers create a service without first investigating their market. This is essential before you move forward with the rest of these steps or you risk creating content that will not match your clientele.

Of course there are services like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics that aid you in this process. They are extremely helpful tools if you are looking to collect raw data from your site in real time and transform it into meaningful information. But there are other, less expensive, options to gain basic information about your customers.

If you have a close enough relationship with your clients, feel free to ask them directly what they would like to see in your service. If your relationship is more clinical, don’t be afraid to use a good old-fashioned survey. So long as you are careful to keep the surveys simple, infrequent and uninvasive, it will be a huge help in the long run. You can even incentivize participation by offering a discount for a randomly selected customer.

Some basic information to explore:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Region
  • Seniority (are you speaking with the owner or the intern)
  • Interests
  • Concerns and comments regarding your service

Create high-quality content

Now that you know your audience, you can create clean, personalized prose that is optimized for your customer base, not for a search engine. Trust in the intelligence of your clients. They can tell when something is layered in search terms and reads unnaturally. So remember: make it read well for a human, not a bot and introduce search terms organically into your prose. Once your users arrive, they will be much more likely to follow through with your service.

The most time-tested method to both get your site higher in Google rankings and attract organic traffic is to post blogs or articles frequently. Whatever your area of expertise is, feel free to share it in a professional, well-formatted blog. This is an opportunity to predict the questions and concerns that you just heard from your clientele and answer them in real time.

It can feel like a lot of pressure to meet the deadline of a daily or even a weekly post. But the best advice is to stay consistent, regardless of how often you post. Not only will your blog prove more effective with customers, Google will also preference your original content over content scraped from elsewhere.

Apply business ethics

This leads to an important point: write ethically and with intention. Some people get away with paying for inbound traffic, stealing content or churning out pages and pages of meaningless keywords. Not only is this amoral, Google is also starting to catch on to these practices and penalize the sites that they find. Be smart and make good quality content.

If you write content well enough, other reputable sites may even start to link to your site, thus creating a “backlink” which will help your google ranking immensely (assuming the link is coming from a reliable source). Of course this goes hand in hand with the quality of your prose, so avoid posting clickbait and instead take the time to create something informative and meaningful.

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Generate leads without a website

All of the above examples assume that you have your own website. But many freelancers are not there yet, and that’s okay. In the past few years it seems that everyone has built a website and become an SEO expert. But there is more to a successful freelance business than SEO. Let’s look at a few time-tested methods of driving new customers to your business.

Social media

First, let’s get social media out of the way.

If you don’t have a website, a robust social media presence is going to be extremely helpful, and not just in the predictable ways. Find groups related to your field on Facebook and LinkedIn and start posting with consistency. Do not make spammy, self-promotional posts or you will likely get booted from the group and lose some potential friends in the industry (most admins are also your peers).

Instead, post useful advice, personal experiences from your business or topical questions. If you do this long enough, not only will clients start to reach out to you, Facebook and LinkedIn will also start to preference your page in their algorithm. In this way, you can find warm leads without a website and without spending a penny on Facebook ads.

One last note: be sure to keep interaction high. If someone reaches out on your page, even with an inane question or comment, don’t neglect it. Respond to any and all forms of communication and you will be rewarded both personally and through Facebook’s algorithm.

Get interviewed

This might sound silly but a professionally edited video of you and a colleague discussing industry topics can distinguish you from your competition and establish you as an industry leader. It’s a low cost way to increase visibility and it puts a face with a name for those who don’t know you personally.

Meet your peers

This is the advice that most marketing experts neglect, but you will be rewarded if you track down conventions and industry events in your area. They are a great way to build contacts with like-minded individuals and they are enormously helpful when it comes to keeping the edge on your industry. Even if you need to travel a short distance, the benefits will far outweigh the cost of a bus or a cheap flight.

Freelancers Week is an example of a great Berlin-based event that happens annually and brings freelancers from all different industries and disciplines together. You can find panels and lectures that are more tailored to your interests and use them to meet like-minded entrepreneurs.

Similarly, Meetup is a relaxed, free way to get in touch with your industry. The site is updated frequently and offers many different opportunities, based on your location and interests. This will lead to a fuller competency within your industry and more local contacts.

Meet your clients

Do you work for a very specific clientele? For example, you may have a high concentration of contracts in medicine, education, media or the arts. Each of these fields has the same multitude of conventions and events. Whatever industry your company serves, research events in your area and meet potential clients face to face.

As with any interaction, you don’t want to lead with a sales pitch. Just converse with potential clients and let your services come up naturally. This pressure-free method will garner you knowledge about the needs of your clients and earn you new contacts, some of which will inevitably lead to sales.

Get referrals

If you offer world-class service for long enough, you will build up a trove of happy customers. A simple referral bonus (10% off their next order for example) will incentivize clients to send their colleagues your way. Thus, you can fuel a fully self-sustaining small business model.

Of course these suggestions are not one-size-fits-all. Take the advice that applies to your business and store the rest away for later. If your website is struggling to climb the ladder of Google’s search rankings, these simple tips will help you build a more robust, optimized site. If your website is rock solid but your business is shrinking, revisit the old-school methods of shaking hands and filling a rolodex. Over time you will find the combination that works for you and develop your own marketing practice as a freelancer or small business owner. If you’re already there, congrats! If not, these things take time. Just stay focused on your goals, put the work in and your business will flourish before long.

Author: Andrew Neely