Throughout the month of March, I’ve been focusing on the theme of marketing yourself and your business, and sharing everything that has worked well for me so far. This week, I’d like to change gears a little bit, and talk about the things you shouldn’t do when marketing your business. I’ve learned a lot from my own mistakes and the mistakes I see others making, so this week, let’s talk about how you can avoid all the pitfalls of self-marketing!
1. Don’t exchange services in lieu of getting paid.
Participating in an exchange—also known as bartering—may seem like a fine idea on paper, but in my experience, it never works out to my benefit, and it establishes a dangerous precedent. It’s fairly common for clients to offer to barter instead of paying me through trades such as:
“If you create this course for me, I’ll…”
- Get you some exposure on my company’s website!
- Give you some of my consulting expertise to help you with your business!
- Create a new logo for your business!
Again, these ideas sound like reasonable offers at first, until you consider some of the consequences. In these examples, there’s some “fine print” to consider.
The first question to ask yourself when a client proposes an exchange of services is, “Why don’t they want to pay me?” In most cases, the answer is “because they don’t have the money.” If a client doesn’t have money to pay you, that’s a bad sign for the future—and you definitely don’t want to have any long-term client relationships that don’t result in any compensation. If a client does have the money, but they prefer to barter instead, that’s not a good sign for you either: It indicates that they don’t think your services are worth paying for.
Also, most people aren’t aware that anything you receive through bartering counts as taxable income, and must be reported on IRS Form 1099-B, “Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions.” Some customers may want to barter because they prefer “under the table” transactions they don’t intend on reporting—and that practice is also known as tax fraud.
Finally, it’s worth considering the precedent you’re setting with this type of exchange. If you do a one-time barter, and a new need comes from the client, they are far less likely to want to pay you. If they could get your services without paying before, they’re going to want to do it again—and then you have a longer-term client that isn’t generating any revenue. (Another way of thinking about this is remembering that “Maybe if I barter now, they’ll pay for my services later” is flawed logic and wishful thinking!)
In these instances, it’s better to negotiate your fee, or politely decline if you and your client can’t find a mutually agreeable payment rate. Negotiating can be challenging, but is essential to the financial health of your business. (For more information about best practices for negotiating your e-Learning services, read my recent e-Learning Heroes forum post where I share the strategies that have worked best for me.)
2. Never complain about or speak poorly of your existing clients.
Not every client is perfect! As a freelance e-Learning Designer, sooner or later you’ll find yourself engaging with clients who frustrate you—that’s part of the gig. In my own business, I find that I occasionally run into a client that can be challenging to work with from time to time—they seem to change their mind daily, can’t articulate their own business needs, or they even become uncommunicative during the most critical phase of a project. (It’s rare, but it happens.) But with that in mind, it’s important that you never, ever complain about them to other people, especially online—even anonymously.
In today’s climate of data breaches, leaks, and questionable standards of privacy on the Internet, it’s important to remember that anything you post on the web can be traced back to you and even taken out of context. Even discussing clients without mentioning them by name is dangerous—consider that if you’re bad-mouthing Client A, but leaving their name out of it, it’s possible that your other Clients B, C, and D may think you’re talking about them! (And if you’ve chosen a username dissociated from any personal information about you, you’re essentially insulting someone and hiding behind a username, and that’s ethically questionable.)
If you find yourself complaining about your clients regularly, you may want to check-in with your core values and determine why you’re working with those types of clients at all.
3. Demonstrate your expertise more than you talk about it.
When it comes to marketing yourself, you’ll leave a much stronger impression with clients if you show them your skills rather than describing them. Anyone can claim to be an expert, but not everyone can do what you do—so make sure that you’re leading with examples of your work instead of relying on adjectives to describe your talent.
When marketing myself in any circumstance, I avoid terms like “expert,” “authority,” “guru,” or “award-winning.” Subjective terms like these may sound great at first blush, but the reality is that no terminology will be able to provide as much value as a demonstration of your skills. In practice, this means that when I’m creating marketing materials, whenever possible, I let the work speak for itself. For example, I was recently discussing this blog series (“Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer”) with a potential client, and instead of saying, “As an experienced author and long-term veteran of the e-Learning field, I can help you with XYZ,” I chose to say, “My current passion is a new series of blog posts designed to provide my peers with insights about what I’ve learned about e-Learning freelancing.”
4. Provide more and promote less.
This idea may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to remember to focus on providing value more than you do promoting yourself. Of course, self-marketing is necessary, but you’ll be more effective if you spend more time “walking the walk” then you do “talking the talk.”
Clients are savvy people; they will recognize immediately when you’re advertising. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that you’ll need to balance those efforts with strong examples of how you’ll live up to your promises. Earlier this month, I discussed some key activities for marketing yourself effectively, and as you engage in those activities, it’s important to remember to spend more time on showing and less time on telling. (For example, if you have more tweets, Facebook ads, and pitch presentations than you have portfolio samples, you’re over-prioritizing your promotional efforts and need to shift more of your attention back to creating good work examples.)
If you’re not sure where to start, last week’s post on creating a compelling e-Learning portfolio has some suggestions to get you going.
As I’ve been saying all month: Marketing yourself is challenging! Even after years of freelancing, I still find myself questioning if I’m prioritizing the right aspects of my experience when I market myself. The key factor in all of this is self-awareness. You’re human; you’re going to make mistakes. Your potential clients are also human; they may need your help in understanding the full scope of what you can do. So the point of all of this is not to ever make a mistake again—rather, the point is to maintain an awareness of your own self-marketing practices, and always be thinking critically about how you present yourself professionally.
As always, I’m eager to hear from you about your own successes and challenges. What has been the toughest lesson for you to learn when it comes to promoting yourself? What practices have been the most and least successful for your freelance business? I encourage you to join my private Facebook group to engage in discussions with others in the industry, or participate in our Twitter conversations with the hashtag #eLearningBiz!