Working as a freelancer doesn’t have to be an end-stage for your business growth. There are many different ways of helping you grow into a full-on business.
This article is based on the webinar eLama has conducted in collaboration with Regina Zaltsman of ZaltsMAN Media, a marketing agency that provides a wide range of services to their clients.
She shares her experience of creating a successful European marketing agency from scratch.
How to find your first clients
First, how do you even get your first paying client?
We have covered this issue in detail in one of our previous articles; check it out if you want to learn more about client search and portfolio building.
There are different ways that can help you find your first paying client as a freelancer. The one that worked for Regina was talking to her former employers and providing marketing services for them.
The most important point here is that you must do your best in order to over-deliver on the projects you are given. This way you will ensure your former employers will be satisfied with your work and are more likely to recommend you to other professionals.
After the projects were completed, her former colleagues recommended Regina as a professional marketing specialist to their colleagues in other branches of the company.
Another good way to find your first client is to try talking to your friends or friends of friends and help them with their projects to help expand your portfolio or for a small fee. Check if people in your closest circle are working on projects already and offer them your services.
Regina has also tried applying as a freelancer to bigger companies to help them outsource certain projects. Sometimes bigger companies do use freelancers in order to take the pressure off their stuff by still making sure that their projects are finished.
You can also try collaborating with freelancers who provide different services from yourself. This will help you to provide a wide variety of services to your clients.
For example, together with a web designer, Regina managed to make a website overhaul for a new client and support it with her marketing services. They successfully delivered on the project.
It was at that point that Regina realized it was time to grow and start up an agency offering a wide variety of services.
There are many agencies in the market. How do I stand out?
Marketing services is an oversaturated market. Therefore, you might think that it’s impossible to stand out as an agency.
But, it’s not. You can identify your own special way that makes you unique in the market.
You need to identify your strongest skill, be it SMM, SEM or anything else. You need to prove that you are a professional in a certain field and that you already have a record of accomplishment of successful projects behind your back.
You can also figure out a list of companies you would be happy to work with, or it could be certain companies within a specific vertical. This way you will know what companies to go for when pitching your agency’s services in the beginning.
Identify opportunities outside of your main field. Try collaborating with designers and web developers to deliver services tailored to each client’s specific needs. See if you can create new ways to reach customers that were unavailable to you separately.
Say no to an unprofitable project
Initially, when you are just starting out, you are very happy to get any type of projects, no matter how promising they look.
And don’t get me wrong, getting new clients is still exciting when you are already an established business.
However, you will soon come to the realization that your time is a very limited resource. Not to mention that you are a for-profit company, so you have to be very careful about the projects you choose to work on.
You will need to audit your existing projects, look at them from a profitability point of view and realize whether it makes sense for your business to continue working on them.
Look at what you are doing for your existing clients and renew the contracts that have to be renewed. Establish a new communications framework with those clients with whom you wish to rework contracts.
Be up to date with the trends in your field
You always have to be up to date with what is happening within your field of specification, and the whole industry too. You never know where the next big opportunity will come from.
Pay attention to what the biggest service providers in your industry have to offer. Especially Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the Chinese digital giant Alibaba.
Always be ready to introduce new tools and services to your clients when the right opportunity shows itself. However, do not forget that these opportunities have to be relevant to your clients’ needs.
Learn more about the new formats and the ways they can optimize your clients’ advertising process and boost ads’ efficiency.
Listen to your clients
You need to stay in touch with your clients. Always. Listen carefully to their needs to identify the right time to rearrange your existing framework or to open new opportunities.
But be aware that not all new things in the market will be a good fit for every business.
For example, initially, Regina was very excited about Twitter’s Promoted posts option when it was released.
So, she offered this new promising tool to her client. But after some time it was clear that this tool did not fit their business. There was no demand for their products on this platform, so they ended up wasting budget without any return.
Sometimes clients might want to test out new features themselves, but you need to know whether they will be able to find their audiences there. You need to be able to consult them on the new products and explain why they are good or not good for their businesses. Pay close attention to it.
Trustful and partnering relations
Your reputation is the key to the longstanding success of your business.
One of the most important things in agency management is to establish yourself as a trustworthy partner.
You need to be open with your clients about the processes involved in your collaboration.
If your clients want extra services and you are sure that you cannot cover these responsibilities with your skills and capacities you need to be upfront about it.
But you can help them find ways to cover these new service requests by recommending your partners, for example. This will be an investment in your reputation as a trustworthy and honest companion.
Some clients will return after long periods of silence if they were satisfied with your and your agency’s work as was the case with one of Regina’s first clients.
What to look for in potential employees
Teamwork makes the dream work. Your team is everything. The right talent can make or break your business.
When searching for the right talent for your team there are a few things to pay close attention to.
You need to look for self-motivated people who are fully invested in your projects. People like this will deliver more on the projects they are working on. Self-motivated people find satisfaction in giving the best they can to the projects they work on.
Also, look for people who are professional, punctual and are able to deliver on their promises. These people are very business-oriented and are a great addition to your business. Pay close attention to their track record of success on previous jobs.
So keep an eye out for a mix of these features and you will be able to source a team that will push your company to the next level.
How to establish yourself as a reliable partner
Here are a few things you need to remember and heed in order to establish yourself as a reliable partner in the European market.
As mentioned previously, you and your employees need to prove that you are professional, punctual, reliable and open with clients.
Be consistent, even if you have discussed something very quickly in a chat, you need to follow up on these things and don’t forget to include it in your next contract or framework.
Be ready to provide individual solutions to your clients and always be invested in their projects.
Make sure you have learned the ins and outs of their industries and verticals. Also, learning more about their potential competitors will be a good thing. This way you will demonstrate that you are a very involved and professional establishment.
Specifics of the European market
Even though digital industries evolve quickly, normally European companies are looking for long-term partners.
You also need to be ready to act independently as some clients might not communicate with you for a few weeks or even months but agencies have to be ready to provide data on their marketing campaign performance at any time.
Therefore, your clients do not have to remind you of anything. You act indie and have a high level of responsibility.
When you see ways to do something better, get to your clients and introduce these things. But remember what we discussed earlier; make sure it makes sense for their business.
In addition, an important thing, at least in DACH countries, an email has the same validity as a signed contract. Regina doesn’t have written contracts with some of her clients since anything discussed and agreed upon via email already has legal power.
Remember the most important things about marketing agency creation:
- Have a good portfolio of successful freelance projects
- Establish yourself as a reliable professional who over-delivers on projects
- Collaborate with other professionals to branch out and deliver a wide variety of services
- Hire the right talent
- Be PPRO (professional, punctual, responsible and open)
- Know the ins and outs of your client’s industry
- Be ready to introduce new tools and services relevant to your client’s business
- And always pay attention to the specifics of the markets you are working on