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BOGOs Product Endorsement and other Marketing Options for Freelancers

February 9, 1999
by Pat McClellan

BOGOs, Product Endorsement, and other Marketing Options for Freelancers

I have a friend who used to work in the accounting department at the Quaker Oats Company. Every month, it was her task to account for all changes in inventory as a result of BOGOs. That's "buy one, get one" promotions. For packaged goods like breakfast cereal or Gatorade, BOGOs are a great way to get people to try your product -- or for repeat buyers to stock up (extending the period of time over which you will build brand loyalty.) They work because the buyer really doesn't have much at risk in making the purchase. Unfortunately, it's difficult for Multimedia Freelancers to successfully sell their services in a BOGO promotion. Luckily, there are some other marketing strategies you can employ.

In this article, we're talking about freelancers, but there's no reason why all of these concepts wouldn't apply to getting a fulltime job as well. Whether you're selling your services or Twinkies, the first task in marketing is to analyze your customer. You really need to zero in on what they care about. What are their concerns? And, what are they putting at risk in making a decision? What are their "hot-buttons"?

Hot buttons are the critical decision-making items in the purchase process. While each person will have individual items that are important to him/her, I would have to say that the #1 hot button for people hiring freelancers is.... trust. Not price, not creativity, not hip clothing, just plain old trust. The client has got to trust that hiring you won't make them look bad. Believe me, this is not a trivial or unfounded fear. I've heard "freelancer stories" that would scare you into early retirement: freelancers who literally disappear days before critical deadlines; freelancers who completely burn themselves out and are unable to complete the work; freelancers who show up for meetings with important executives dressed like they just came from a heavy metal concert.


Why so much emphasis on trust? To answer that, you have to understand what decision makers are risking when they hire you. When they hire you for a job, they are putting their own reputation on the line with their client or their superiors. So, as you pitch your whiz-bang portfolio and techno-wizard skillset, they're sitting there wondering about much more basic questions. Things like:

And then, only after all the other questions are answered affirmatively... are you creative? Are you a better programmer than the last guy they saw? What are your rates? To be honest, these last questions are almost irrelevant. They matter only to the extent that they answer the first question listed above. I'm not talking here about what it takes to produce a great program -- my focus for this article is what it take to get more work. It's been my good fortune to get a lot more work than scores of other developers who are more creative or are better programmers than I.

How to you go about answering those key questions? In an interview situation, keep them in mind as the context for any discussion you have about your experience. For example, let's say that you're showing a project from your portfolio. Introduce the project by saying "Here's another example which I produced on-time and on-budget for Acme Inc...."

In reality, the best way to answer those key questions is not in an interview. The problem with an interview is that it's much like buying a used car: you're usually a bit sceptical about any claims that the salesperson makes. On the otherhand, you'd be much more likely to believe such claims if they came from someone you trust -- perhaps a friend who had bought a similar car. That's where that old buzzword pops up: references. I'm not just talking about establishing a network of business contacts. That's not enough. You have to take advantage of that network to establish a reputation for yourself. And what is that reputation? That you finish your projects on-time and on-budget, you communicate effectively, work well on a team, and are presentable to clients. How do you establish that reputation?


First and foremost, it must be true. If you can't answer those key questions affirmatively, no amount of creativity or wizardry will compensate. You need to be honest with yourself and identify your weaknesses. Call your past clients -- especially ones that haven't called you back. (Tell them you're doing some customer satisfaction follow up calls.) Ask them to tell you how they'd answer the key questions about your work. Ask them if they would have any reservations about recommending you to a collegue. If they would not, find out why and address those issues in the way you work. If your client responds positively, ask them if they can suggest any potential clients you could contact -- and ask them if you can use them as a reference. (Don't forget to send a thank you note. Good manners count a lot!)

Next, once you've gotten a contact name, make the contact. I know, this is the hardest part and nobody likes it. But remember, you've got a foot in the door -- a reference. Lead off by saying something like..."Sally Jones suggested that I contact you. I've done several successful programs for Sally, and she thought you might need some help on similar projects. Could we set up a meeting at your convenience? Maybe I could take you to lunch someday soon."

If and when you ever get to that meeting, your hope is that the new contact has called Sally to ask about you. Either way, you need to remember to answer the key questions. Make it clear to the new contact that these key issues are your priorities. If the meeting goes well, don't just ask for an opportunity to work for them. Extend your network -- ask them if they can recommend anyone else they know who might need your services?

Asking people for references and additional contacts serves 2 major marketing objectives. First, you're expanding you contacts -- which can only lead to more work. More importantly, you're changing the relationship with each person who gives you a reference. When someone gives you a reference, they're essentially "endorsing you." That process has the (strange) psycological effect of making them commit more firmly to their feelings about you. If those feelings are positive (and they must be, or you shouldn't ask for a reference), then the feelings will become more positive after the reference. I can't explain why this happens, but marketers have used this for decades. Market research shows that people are much more brand loyal after being asked to state a brand preference.

So, there we are -- back to brand marketing. What can we conclude? Forget about BOGOs or other "creative" gimmicks. Focus on proving yourself trustworthy. Leverage satisfied clients by asking them for references and other contacts.

One final note. Never burn bridges. By that, I mean you should never severe ties within your network of contacts. Though it might be very tempting to tell your boss where to stick it when you quit a job, or really unload on someone who deserves it, don't. You never know when that outburst can come back to haunt you -- or keep you from getting work. People have long memories and enjoy the opportunity to contribute to your "reputation". (Think about it... don't you know somebody who you'd love to get back for something they did to you. Alan Pinkston was mean to me in 4th grade, and you can bet I still remember it!) So, swallow your pride and keep your temper. It's just not worth it. It's hard to build a reputation, but it's even harder to rehabilitate a bad reputation.

Patrick McClellan is Director Online's co-founder. Pat is Vice President, Managing Director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential marketing company. He is responsible for the San Francisco office, which helps major technology clients to develop marketing communications programs to reach enterprise and consumer audiences.

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