Pretend that you get a large heavy freight box delivered to your front door. Inside the box are boards cut to various shapes and sizes and plastic bags full of mysterious looking metal components. Even if you have an instruction sheet showing how to assemble whatever you have received, if you don't know what it's supposed to look like, how long it will take, or what tools you need it's going to be easy to get frustrated and pack it away in the garage.

However, if you know that it's a coffee table from IKEA that should take around an hour to assemble and that all you'll need are hex wrenches and a hammer you'll likely be able to build it with a minimal amount of fuss.

Beyond knowing what to do, knowing what to expect and how to assess the situation can help keep you on track and moving forward. In this chapter, we'll review what your mindset should be for developing marketing materials.

Don't Focus on Homeruns

Marketing is a nebulous activity. You can't tell what will and what won't work simply by forecasting. If you have it in your head that the marketing material you create will be an amazing success straight out of the gate, you're fooling yourself because it's unlikely that you're going to get everything perfect the first time.

That doesn't mean that you should expect failure— just that it's important to set your sights on targets that will have long-term benefit regardless of how successful you are the first time.

In developing your marketing assets, you should be learning a few different things:

  1. How to market yourself and your services.
  2. What resonates with your ideal client.
  3. What channels are effective for communicating with your ideal client.

Because you are focused on learning and not on the immediate results, you need to view the development of your marketing materials as an experiment.

Marketing and Experimentation

As an experiment, you should have a hypothesis about what a successful experiment will tell you. For example:

I think a 4 part screencast series on YouTube for IT managers about the process to eliminate technical debt using agile methodologies will generate at least 500 views a month and at least 100 (20%) of those will click through at the end of the series to our website.

After creating your screencast you'll be testing to see if you can:

  • Generate 500 views a month.
  • Convert 100 to view your website.

You Need Feedback

Because you're trying to learn something through the creation of these marketing materials, you need measurement mechanisms in place to help you assess the impact they have.

For our YouTube example, you'll need to find the section of YouTube where you can track engagement with your videos and the views that month. You'll probably want to figure out how to include a link on your videos so that you can make it easy for interested IT managers to connect to your website. You'll need have some sort of analytics installed on your website so you can track the referrer and see if you're getting 100 leads from your YouTube videos. Additionally, you'll want to have some sort of mechanism in place to figure out whether a lead has watched your video series. For example a simple question: "How did you hear about me?" when you talk to them.

The point about having a hypothesis is not to simply to verify whether you're right or not, but to understand what's working and what's not and what specific responses you can generate with a kind of marketing material.

The trickiest part about feedback is making sure that you measure at regular intervals. Because of this, I recommend having a standard day to assess measurements or a reminder in your calendar to determine the success of experiment at a predetermined date. A simple spreadsheet function as well as a report card to show progress over time.


Certain marketing materials take lots of time, preparation, research, and effort to develop. I would recommend that you avoid these. For example, writing a book can be a highly effective way to get leads, but it's a bad bet out of the gate because you don't know what works and what doesn't.

Experiments should be to distinct, small, and low risk. When you do find a topic in a format that's a solid hit, that's when you can determine whether you should double down on that marketing material and expanded into something with higher impact.

How much time and energy you should invest in developing a marketing asset depends upon your appetite for risk, but I personally don't like to spend more than a week or two in development of these materials because along with the actual development, you'll need to spend some time promoting them and helping them to gain initial traction.

Marketing the Marketing

It's a bit ironic, but even though you developing these little marketing machines to promote your freelancing business, they will need some active promotion in order to be effective.

The rule of thumb is that you should spend as much or more time in marketing your educational guide as you did in developing it. The goal is that you get enough inertia behind it to where can continue moving on its own and become an effective channel in its own right.

It Doesn't Happen Overnight

Finally, it's important to realize that marketing takes time. You're going to have to invest in several experiments and it may take months before you begin to see the marketing materials you developed have an effect. When I wrote my initial guide, nothing appeared to happen for the first 9 months. It seemed like a failure during this period and then it achieved good enough positioning in the search results that it was like someone had turned on a faucet and I had to start turning away inquiries because I didn't have the capacity to take on new projects.

The good news is that if you are successful in providing something valuable to potential clients, time is on your side. The more time pasts the more likely people are going to run across your marketing materials and communicate it as a resource to others who could benefit from the assets you've created.

Missing the Boat (And Train)

The day that I conducted the marketing experiment on my content guide was not just another day on vacation.

My wife and I were taking the train to visit the largest cave system in in the world. I love spelunking and I love traveling by rail, so it was going to be a great way to finish off our trip.

We had to catch a ferry from Cat Ba island to the mainland and take a bus to Hanoi where we would get on the train that evening.
When we woke up that morning, we had two different perspectives on our travel itinerary for the day.

I wanted to leave immediately and spend the day in Hanoi near the train station hanging out in a cool coffee shop we had previously visited. My wife wanted to hang out all day in Cat Ba, and then catch the last ferry and bus to the train station. I wanted to spend it in Hanoi because it increased our chances of overcoming any problems that should arise along the way. My wife didn't want to spend the day in the city and wanted to instead sit on the patio the coffee shop near the bay. Her reasoning was what could go wrong? We ended up agreeing that we would stay in Cat Ba, but that she would foot the travel cost if anything happened (yes, that is the kind of relationship we have. :-) ).

I spent the day writing the guide and late in the afternoon we hopped on the bus. After we'd been on the road for 10 minutes I remembered that we had left our passports with the hotel clerk. We missed the last ferry and ended up having to change our travel plans and skip the cave because we wouldn't have enough time there.

It's rarely just doing the work; especially when you're beginning something new. Whether it is traveling in a developing country or implementing a new marketing effort, you have to set yourself up for success.

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