What if I told you that 90% of my work projects come to me without having to pitch or cold call clients?
As a freelancer I’m often asked how I get new business, but people are surprised when I admit that I rarely look for new clients because, more often than not, my clients are the ones that discover me.
Instead of having to reach out to potential clients, I just open my inbox on a daily basis and find leads waiting for a reply. This is the power of inbound marketing, and it can work for any kind of business - even yours.
Let me walk you through the inbound marketing techniques I use to build my business, along with the tools I use to convert leads into paying clients, so you can apply them to build your business, too.
How I Landed My First Inbound Client
My career as a freelance writer started by accident, all because of inbound marketing.
When I set out to make money online, I started by writing free content for blogs. Back in those days I never mentioned that I was a freelance writer, but my work was spotted by an editor who asked me to write for his publication. He offered to pay for my work. And so my business began.
I quickly realized that visibility played a huge part in generating inbound leads.
Having my name included in the byline of each article I wrote helped. But when I put the words “Freelance Writer” next to my name wherever I was active on the internet -- social media profiles, forums, my biography, even on the homepage of my website -- the trickle of inbound business leads I received turned into a steady flow.
Those two little words helped to jump start my new business. Now, five years later, while I still apply to the occasional ad that interests me, the vast majority of my client base continues to come to me.
How to Use Inbound Marketing for Your Business
Inbound marketing can work for businesses in all industries. To make it work for yours, you first need to know three things:
- Who your customers are
- What your customers need
- Where your customers hang out online
You can then use this information to create informative content that attracts customers to your website (your homepage) and sales content that demonstrates why they need the product or service you create (your landing pages). You will also know where to promote your content and how to engage with your ideal customers (your social networks).
Here’s a brief rundown of how I do this with my freelance writing business:
- I create informative content that attracts customers by blogging regularly and writing for major online publications
- I proactively promote my content and network with my potential customers on social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)
- I have a business website and landing pages that demonstrate the value of my service
Craft brewery Postmark Brewing takes a non-traditional approach to attracting inbound leads:
- They partner with other local businesses to produce Postmark-branded products, including wearable merchandise, camping mugs, umbrellas, even ice cream!
- They curate weekly playlists on SoundCloud for thousands of fans
- All of their content points back to the Postmark Brewing website, where customers can contact the business
And a vacuum repairman, who goes by the online moniker “Don’t Touch My Coffee”, became the internet’s go-to guy for vacuum repairs by using inbound marketing in the following ways:
- He started a YouTube channel to share helpful advice on vacuum repairs
- He dispenses free advice to potential customers using social media and relevant online forums related to his niche (vacuums and vacuum repairs)
- But the channel where most of his customers hang out is Reddit, so that’s where he hosts regular, free Ask Me Anything sessions where he answers hundreds of questions about vacuum repair
You can see that while the methods used by each business are different, the principles remain the same: everything these businesses share online is valuable to their potential customers, it’s distributed where their customers are hanging out, and it always includes details of the business’s service and a link back to the business’s website or landing page.
How you apply this approach to your business will depend on the industry you’re in and the service or product you provide. Also note that the social networks you choose will depend on the customers you’re trying to attract. Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses both tend to do well on Facebook and Twitter. B2B businesses should also focus on LinkedIn, while B2C businesses should also focus on Instagram and Pinterest.
A happy side effect of sharing informative content and engaging on social media is the growth of your audience. The recognition I received from blogging and networking throughout the years has helped me grow my audience to over 100k followers and fans.
Tools I Use to Manage Inbound Leads
Okay. Once you’ve set up a system to generate more inbound leads for your business, you’ll need to manage them effectively to ensure they convert. You don’t want leads to go cold or get buried in your inbox.
Here are the tools I use to make sure new inbound leads turn into paying customers.
Canned Responses is a free feature from Gmail that allows me to create templates to send to specific types of leads. Overall, it’s a great tool that saves time responding to inbound leads and helps avoid inbox overload.
The templates I have in my Canned Responses allow me to start a conversation and follow up with the best prospective clients. I also have templates to politely turn down clients I do not feel would be a good fit. The latter is the toughest challenge for any business receiving leads through inbound marketing. You have to qualify all of your incoming leads to ensure that both you and the client will have a solid experience.
I use the ‘tracking response’ feature in Boomerang for Gmail to keep track of leads that go cold. If a prospective customer doesn’t reply to me, Boomerang for Gmail returns the conversation to my inbox and reminds me to follow up.
In most cases, it's this follow-up that will help me convert them into a customer. Note that the follow-up email I send is set up as a Canned Response template as well, which saves plenty of time.
I use ScheduleOnce to allow prospective customers to quickly schedule a call with me. This cuts out the usual back-and-forth that’s involved in finding a meeting time that works with two people's calendars. ScheduleOnce also automates reminder emails and calendar scheduling so there is less chance of anyone (including you) forgetting about the call.
Sidekick alerts me when prospective customers re-open my emails and click on links within the email at a later date. If it's been awhile since my last follow up, I'll follow up again because I know they are thinking about my services at that particular moment.
So far, no one thought it was creepy that I emailed them straight after they opened my email six months later. They often think it was perfect coincidence or a sign that the time was right to start working together!
Need some help?
If you're still feeling sceptical about using inbound marketing, believe me when I say I’ve seen it work time and time again for businesses in all industries.
Remember: the key is to understand who your customers are, what they need, and where they hang out online. Then, become visible and attract inbound leads by creating useful content (blog, website, social) that drives them to a site (landing page, online store, contact page) where they can inquire about or buy your services.
If you have any questions about using any of these inbound marketing techniques for your business, post them in the comments below. I’d be happy to help you out.