What Freelancers Can Learn from Retailers

When things get financially murky, the tendency is to work, work, work to pay those bills. This, in my opinion, is a very bad idea. Do you know how long you can keep up a frenetic writing pace? Burn-out is a killer for many freelancers and working yourself to the bone is only going to get you there faster. Instead, think before you write, pitch and promote to save yourself some heartache (and some headaches, too). Who better to learn from than an online retailer?

Offer Savings as an Incentive to Act

Pillsbury (Yes, that would be the brand that markets the Pillsbury dough boy) offers a free $10.00 coupon booklet in exchange for signing up for their email newsletter. The free Pillsbury Coupon booklet is a great idea because a) it gives people coupons and recipes that they will use and b) all it takes is filling out a form. In return, Pillsbury can send you their email newsletter. A win-win for everyone!

How can you use the idea of “savings” to benefit you? Maybe you offer a $10 coupon for your services if companies sign up for your email newsletter. Maybe you take the approach that you’ll offer an hour’s worth of “free” consulting for new clients (worth $X). Whatever the case may be, the key to offering “savings” is to disclose what the value of your offer is to your readers, clients and/or customers. In a recession, every dollar saved counts so don’t be afraid to fully disclose what the value of your offer is.

Give Away Free Samples or Product

Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Musicnotes.com and Axe body spray all offer something for “free.” Bath and Body Works offers free lotion and other limited engagement samples from time to time, as does Victoria’s Secret. Musicnotes.com (the company I work for) offers a free sheet music download of the month on a continuing basis. Axe provides free samples of new and upcoming product; sometimes you’ll see packaged mini-sprays as “free” incentives, too.

These retailers leverage what they give-away with what they get in return. By focusing on the word “free,” they may draw both new and existing customers to their doors without having some sort of a “catch” attached. Their offers are “free” with “no strings attached.” In essence, their free offer acts as a savvy form of lead generation.

How can you leverage “free” for your efforts? Well, if you’re an artist I recommend offering free avatars and wallpaper similar to what Vlad Studio does. He recently updated his site to say “Christmas gifts from Vladstudio.” Brilliant timing! He offers free wallpaper all year round, but now he has updated his site to be more in tune with the season. For writers, maybe you’d include a free blog post or free referrals to other writers you know. Whatever the case may be, if your model is primarily profit-based (i.e. you’re not fully supported by advertising) you can leverage “free” to generate interest.

Provide Exclusive Deals to First-Time, Returning and Referred Customers

Recently, I received a $15.00 coupon in the mail from HSN, that I could apply to my online order as a first-time customer. I’ve gotten similar promotions from a few other stores, too. How can you learn from these deals? Simple. By offering a rate for “new” customers, you are forced to expand your client base and break out into new avenues that you may not have tried before. At the same time, don’t forget to show love to your existing customers. Maybe you’ll set up a “customer referral” program where you’ll charge a better rate to your existing client because they referred you to a new assignment. You might send your existing clients a “thank you” coupon that is good for a limited time only off of your services, too.

Whatever the case may be, there is a lot of proverbial “gold” in ensuring that your contacts are maintained and that you are staying in touch with your possibilities. This is especially true if you have a full or part-time position that isn’t related to freelancing, because it takes a lot of work to keep your network active and the leads flowing.

Don’t Forget to Measure Your ROI

The nice thing about every one of these approaches, is that you can measure lead generation and what your return-on-investment is. Don’t forget to integrate some metrics from your web analytics to see how your site traffic has fared, too. Just because people didn’t use your coupon doesn’t mean that they weren’t interested; it could be that your coupon was not enticing enough or that your promotion was too complicated. Web analytics can help you glean an indication as to “why” your promotion was successful (or wasn’t).

What other tactics have you seen retailers use to engage customers and encourage sales? Have you tried any retail approaches for your freelancing? Share your comments below!

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