By Georgina Laidlaw

“Anti-marketing” Marketing for the Ordinary Freelancer

By Georgina Laidlaw

These days, everyone’s a marketer. And some people truly love promoting themselves. I trained in marketing, but I’m not in that category. I’m just an ordinary freelancer, more intent on doing good work than promoting it.

Also, as a ghost writer, I often do work for which I can’t claim any public credit. Even if I loved putting myself “out there” (wherever that is), I have very limited options for showing off much of my work.

Over the years, I’ve learned to develop some less-obvious, subtle-yet-effective means for self-promotion. Since you, like me, might be an ordinary freelancer who doesn’t enjoy “marketing” yourself, I thought I’d see what you thought of these.

1. Telling the story

This technique is one of my favorites. Basically, it involves telling the story of a project’s development through social media (in my case, Twitter) as it happens.

Of course, there are certain facts about those projects that I can’t include for reasons of confidentiality. But the gaps left by those omissions make room for creative expression — which is, after all, part of my unique offering (as it may be for you).

Recently, I completed a large ghost writing project. I tried to pull the related tweets up today, but (as you may have noticed), Twitter’s having a few server issues. In a nutshell, I made tweets about:

  • writing several thousand words in a day
  • researching Latin American prehistory
  • knuckling down to deliver a book draft (and needing a stiff drink thereafter)

That may seem enigmatic, but these tweets did a lot to:

  • point out to my short copy clients that I offer long-copy services
  • express my enthusiasm for my work
  • imply my versatility and adaptability — I can do a lot more than simply putting a few sentences together

2. Asking the question

I have a lot of friends and contacts in industries that use my skills. Whenever I see them, I ask them the question:

“What are you working on?”

I ask this question because I’m genuinely interested in what my friends are interested in, and they’re all pretty passionate about what they do. But the question creates an opportunity for me to find out the details of what they’re doing, what excites them, and what’s happening in their fields.

The other thing the question does is prompt the polite response, “And what about you?” This provides another opportunity — one in which I can talk about the projects I’m working on.

Since my friend or contact has just finished telling me about the highlights of their working life right now, I can tailor my response to include projects that I expect will be relevant and interesting to them, and/or projects that require skills that might meet a need that they themselves have.


3. Speaking up

Like I said, I do a lot of work that I can’t publicly claim as my own. But I’m aware of the value of project and competency evidence — proof that I can deliver. So I’ve found other ways to present that evidence.

I blog on a few different sites that are pertinent to my target audience. I love doing personal projects, and I actively draw attention to those. I also love doing the occasional job that’s outside my usual focus (like writing a magazine article or delivering a workshop) and linking to, or talking about, that.

I love to talk with peers in related fields about industry developments, and I’m not afraid to ask questions about the things I don’t know or understand, or explain my views on relevant issues I’ve researched and thought about.

Why “anti-marketing” works

These techniques work very well to promote my services. Firstly, they’re easy and enjoyable, so they don’t make me feel like I’m making some great effort to “market” my “business.”

Secondly, they’re subtle — almost subliminal in some cases. So my contacts, most of whom don’t want to be marketed to (and with whom a more obvious marketing approach would be uncomfortable, given my friendships with them), don’t feel edgy or as if they should have their guards up.

Last of all, they’re natural approaches that reflect my personality and philosophy for work, as well as the needs and expectations of what marketing types would call my “target segments.” And don’t run the risk of appearing contrived or forced, because, well, they’re not.

There’s one big bonus, too: because of the indirect, conversational, non-restrictive nature of these promotions, they open up work possibilities (and new contacts) that I believe would be more difficult to find if I were tied down by website copy, brochures, or a set fee schedule.

How do you “market” your services? Do you use “anti-marketing”? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user JMGRIFFIN.

  • Denise

    I call it “reverse marketing” – of myself and my abilities. I have no desire for fame nor glory but what I do like to see and hear are comments like”Gee, this is GOOD” or “Wow, this is amazing” without the speaker knowing it was I who was behind it all. I get an immense sense of satisfaction knowing that I did the best I could and it worked. I take pride in any task handed to me or any task that I take on. Anonymity is my preferred state but as the wheel turns, it seems I can no longer keep it that way. What makes me really sad is that when ones status is revealed, there are people out there who begrudge you any “success” you may enjoy. It would seem that those who look at me and what I have achieved distance themselves from me. If they truly are my friends, who needs enemies? But I’m a big girl and I can take care of my own business – getting on with the job at hand and making a bloody good job of it – not because of them, but in-spite of them.

  • Altima

    I would say that it is not ‘anti-marketing’ it is rather ‘anti-hardselling’.

    How do you measure what works and what doesn’t with your approach?

  • Georgina Laidlaw

    Thanks for the comments :) Altima, you raise a particularly interesting point.

    Marketers want to measure success so that they can gauge the return they’re getting on an investment in a particular type of marketing. Since the approaches I mentioned here cost nothing (and take no additional time, since you’re probably already talking and tweeting anyway), I can’t think of a good reason not to give them a try. There’s nothing to lose.

    The last two methods are easily measurable — if you’re talking to someone, and they then invite you to come in to do some work, you know it. If you write a blog post and a contact asks you about it, then later contracts you for a project, you know it. In the last month, I can attribute about 30% of my income directly to these approaches. Another 30% of my income for that month was generated through ongoing work that was initiated through these methods. The other 30% came from word-of-mouth referrals.

    As you can see, for me, these are the approaches on which my income (i.e. the roof over my head, the food on the table) depend.

    The first method’s a bit more nebulous. I can’t say that it has been the direct cause of a project. I can say that those particular tweets solicited responses from new Twitter contacts, which helped expand my existing network in the industry. I can also say that several of my existing contacts remarked on those tweets when I spoke with them next — both clients and peers — and this suggests that that approach is helping to achieve the impression I want among my “audience”. And who knows where that will lead? :)

    Hope this answers your questions,

  • xhtmlcoder

    Personally I follow a similar approach to what we are referring to here as anti-marketing regarding point two since doesn’t cramp my style. It’s more personal and organic. Much of my work is generally under the hood so most people don’t tend notice directly. Though they certainly appreciate the outcomes and it’s more like subtle networking rather than wasting energy trying to sell.

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