Who needs marketing professionals?
The simple answer to "Who needs marketing professionals?" is - everyone! Although not all of them realise it of course. From the most basic marketing requirements of logo, social media and website - right through to brand development, lead generation and customer retention, all companies need to make these things happen.
As a freelancer your two main opportunities are smaller businesses who have no in-house resource at all and larger organisations who need a specialist skill or some short-term additional marketing support in relation to a specific activity or campaign. Both of these should be investigated, although to get you up and running in the early days it's better to target the smaller companies, as they can often make a decision very quickly and provide revenue-generating work for you almost immediately. With larger companies, yes they do have more money, but they may also take six month to decide to spend it! So pursue both routes, but bear in mind that to have paying jobs on the books in the short term, your best opportunity is those smaller businesses.
All industry types are a target. Having said that, it is very possible that anyone deciding to set up as a freelance marketer has probably come from a client-side role in a specific industry sector, or has worked in an agency role looking after a specific industry type.
As such, you stand a better chance of generating business in this vertical sector that any other, as you can sell your specialist skill set as a differentiator.
Something else to bear in mind is the possibility of getting involved in marketing activity in areas where you have a personal interest. If your industry sector was something like financial services and that was terribly dull, think about your hobbies and interests and see if you can generate business from something that you are actually interested in, but also know something about. Part of the reason for going freelance is all about quality of life, so you might as well do something you enjoy!
In terms of the types of projects that companies might want you to be involved in, it really can be a very wide range. Plus some clients might want you to do everything, whereas others might only want to sub-contract one or two elements of an overall campaign. And the reality is that every now and again you'll get asked to do something that you don't actually know a lot about. Whether you decide to take these projects on or not will depend on your relationship with that client and how little knowledge you actually have about what they are asking for.
Remember though, there is always someone out there who does have the knowledge and that's where your industry network of suppliers will come in handy. Even if you do not eventually end up giving them that project to do, you can always 'pick their brains' to find out what you need to know. Being honest with a client and saying you don't know - but that you know someone who does and will find out - is often a good approach to take as it saves any possible nasty surprises later. And as long as they get what they want in the end they will be happy, and you will have learnt something new!
Another situation you may come across is where a company knows they 'need some marketing' but has no idea specifically what they need or what they want to achieve from it. This is where the consultancy bit comes in. Taking time to sit down with the prospect, look at their business from a wider perspective and help them identify what they want to achieve, will help you to generate business further down the line. Although it seems wrong to be offering this type of advice for free, the reality is that many smaller companies simply do not have the budget to pay for it. And the outcome of the advice you provide will of course be a set of activities which you can then charge them for.
If you have agency experience, turning these sorts of general meetings into quotable projects will probably be relatively straightforward as you will be used to doing it, but if you have come from a purely client-side role this will be harder to get used to. Often a prospect will talk vaguely about a range of ideas and you can sometimes come away from the meeting wondering 'what now?'.
They key is to ensure that you always follow up this type of meeting with an email detailing what you see as their current situation and then recommending what you think they need to do next. Propose this as a list of activities to choose from with individual costs (even if these activities were not discussed in the meeting) rather than an overall plan of activity with one final cost. This will scare people and make them think it's 'all or nothing' - so best to give them a list of options to choose from that works for their budget.
Gill Taylor, Contract Marketing - freelance marketing support for all industries, with specialist IT-sector skills. www.contractmarketing.biz
More on marketing as a freelancer.