The F-word cropped up early in the March 7 “Secrets of successful independents” session put on by IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators. I’m talking about FOCUS.

Coping with changes in the freelance landscape requires both focus and business vision, the foundation of a business plan, agreed speakers Paul Lima, author and freelance writer, and Cathy Ledden, RGD, of Ledden Design. Yet a show of hands revealed that embarrassingly few of those at the meeting have a business plan, which is one of the secrets to being a successful independent.

Having focus and vision allows you to quickly sum up your value when meeting a prospective new client, Paul said. What you say should cover who you are, what you do, when and where you do it, and why. (If you can’t say what you do, how can you tell anyone?) It’s one way to Always Be Marketing (ABM).

“If I did nothing but marketing, it would be annoying. But if I take five minutes to say what I do, that’s okay,” Paul explained.

Paul described “five arrows in the marketing quiver,” none of which we should shoot without a business vision:

  1. Generate repeat business. Talk to existing clients after you’ve finished a project and they have paid. Follow up in three months to see if they need anything else; follow up again two more times. Ask if they know anyone else who might need your services. Ask for a testimonial.
  2. Network with friends, relatives, associates. They may not be the people who are going to hire you, but they can probably refer you to someone who can.
  3. Cold calling and email. Focus on what you do, targeting the people who make sense. Send five to 10 emails a week, and over the course of a year, you will likely pick up at least two or three clients. “It doesn’t take a lot of work but dedication,” Paul said.
  4. Website. This is the foundation of your business. Optimize it for Google searches based on your vision. Use it as the hub and drive traffic to it through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Paul said 60 to 70 per cent of his new business comes through his website.
  5. Advertising and promotion. Make sure you have a website before you run an ad anywhere. Run a small ad in trade magazines that target your sector, or write articles. Paul has written about the importance of training as a way of promoting his training business.

Paul added that if you want to produce a book, you can; he used Lightning Source. It can be profitable, and you can use books to help build your brand.  He said Kindle sales of his book, How to Write a Non-Fiction Book in 60 Days, beat print sales within months. Keywords in the title are important to harness search engine power.

Some of Cathy’s tips:

  • Focus helps you take on clients who are right for you and turn away the ones who take you away from your core strengths.
  • Form teams to bid on work, hiring like-minded people who are better than you.
  • Stay in touch with people after a project ends; use the phone.
  • Use some of the free technology that’s available, such as Dropbox to share files and Skype to videoconference.
  • Buy technology where it makes sense (such as, an online learning system that helps your skills stay fresh) and time with experts (such as
  • Raise your profile by entering awards, volunteering, talking about your work (“tell vs. sell”).  Cathy confessed to not really liking the spotlight, but said, “Feel the fear — but do it anyway.”

Were you there? What advice stood out most for you?

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom and