The Born Freelancer Looks Into Marketing

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


It’s one of those ubiquitous buzz words every freelancer will encounter sooner or later – marketing. You read a lot of unsolicited advice about it these days. Some of it seems contradictory or at the very least confusing. I wanted to find out what I should know about it as a professional freelancer in 2013. I decided to consult an expert in the field whose opinion I felt I could trust and who would give me the straight goods without trying to hide behind a lot of industry jargon.

John Suart is a leading Canadian non-profit marketing and communications consultant who by his own admission does “a lot of writing”. He’s written one book on communications theory and is just finishing his second.


Marketing Tips

THE BORN FREELANCER: Let’s start with some very specific advice, what are your top tips for marketing my brand as a freelancer?

JOHN SUART: I’m sure you’ve read stories about people or organizations that go from rags to riches with social media. The truth is that it is a hard slog. Success will take time and effort. The most important thing is to work at it. Take time to post things, read things and repost other people’s stuff. Your goal is to reach out to others. Connect with as many people as possible. Be creative and try to show in your postings the essence of your brand. If you are a writer, show your skill in writing. If you are a humorist, be funny. If you are an artist, show something visual. Your social media should reflect who you are and what you do.

THE BORN FREELANCER: What you’re telling me is that marketing today is largely about how best to employ social media. OK. People keep telling me I should join LinkedIn. What should I know about it?

JOHN SUART: I like to think of LinkedIn as the business version of Facebook. Where Facebook is mostly about our personal lives, LinkedIn is about our business lives. So, it’s a place where you can list your resume, tell people [about] the work you do and such. But it also has a very active group discussion system. No matter what profession you’re in you’ll find a group of people just like you that’s at LinkedIn and chatting about your work.

THE BORN FREELANCER: It certainly sounds useful. OK, so I’m a freelance writer/ journo/ broadcaster. How do I make LinkedIn work best for me?

JOHN SUART: Think of LinkedIn as both your calling card and your resume. Create a profile with an idea that this is how people will find you for jobs and that the information listed there will be the portfolio of your work. Then get active with groups and get some buzz going for yourself in the industry.


Is Social Media Necessary?

THE BORN FREELANCER: I’m now going to play Devil’s Advocate. Do I even really need social media marketing to survive as a self-employed business these days?

JOHN SUART: Many of my clients are small charities, some of them volunteer-run. They ask me whether social media is really necessary. I tell them that while success stories from using social media are rare, it is the new standard for all communications. In other words, if you don’t do social media, people will think less of you. Even the worst social media is better than none at all.

As a start, go with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. If you feel creative, do YouTube as well. Make some basic profiles and check them against what you think your peers and your customers/employers would expect.


Types of Marketing

THE BORN FREELANCER: Let’s talk about your work. You’re in non-profit marketing. What is the difference between that and for-profit marketing?  Any difference in the techniques you use or is it about guiding philosophies?

JOHN SUART: The difference is very subtle. Both use the same techniques and often the same strategies. The big difference is in what they sell. Non-profits sell ideas and a better tomorrow. These are often harder to define. Also, the audience for non-profits are much more narrow. When you sell cars, you want to sell them to everyone. But most charities are very narrowly defined. They tend to attract a very specific audience. That means that mass market tactics, like big advertising campaigns don’t work.

THE BORN FREELANCER: Tell us a bit about your books – the one you’ve already written and the one you are currently writing.

JOHN SUART: A great social media strategy is to self-publish. That’s what I did. I wrote four “white papers” and then in early 2012 wrote a short book, called “The Revolution”. I published it myself and I gave it away free because its main task was to establish my credibility. It’s been downloaded about 600 times since. The new book I’m writing is again on marketing theory. This time, I’m trying to get it done through a publisher.

THE BORN FREELANCER: An “old school” publisher? A good segue into my next question. Are there still old school (i. e. non social media) marketing techniques that freelancers should also consider exploring?

JOHN SUART: Yes, never miss an opportunity to connect [in real life]. Try to connect with as many people as possible. You met a peer yesterday at lunch? Look her up on her social media and connect. Got a cousin who’s in business in a town far away? Connect with him, too. Social media connections are weird and wonderful. You never know where they will lead. But the rule of thumb is that the more you have the better your social media will work.

THE BORN FREELANCER: And so it comes back to integrating social media into your overall marketing strategy. Now, if I want to pursue in more detail any of the ideas you’ve discussed, do you have any suggestions as to further resources?

JOHN SUART: There’s in fact too much info on this online, and much of it involves snake oil-type sales – “10 things you should do on Facebook” and “How to make a million on LinkedIn”. Instead, find a person who does your type of work and see what they do. Look for someone who’s well respected and connected and search for them and their social media. What types do they use? How often do they add content? How many connections do they have?

THE BORN FREELANCER: Finally, what in your opinion is the biggest single fallacy or mistaken belief about marketing in general today?

JOHN SUART: I’d say the biggest myth is that you can do it all in a day. We’ve all heard of fantastic success stories about social media. And we’ve heard and seen big ad campaigns. Both give us the illusion that marketing can change your fortunes overnight. This is extremely rare. Most success in marketing comes long-term efforts to market and communicate. So, when you think of marketing, think long-term.


My sincere thanks to John Suart for taking time out of a busy schedule to answer these questions. Most of his writing and more information about him and the services he offers can be found on his website,

Posted on February 21, 2013 at 9:15 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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