Email Marketing for Freelancers: 9 Steps to Drive Revenue

April 1, 2014

If you frequently go through dry spells or aren’t generating the kind of revenue you’d like to, you probably don’t have enough high-quality prospects in your sales pipeline. That’s a typical problem for a lot of freelancers. But there are remedies, and one particularly effective strategy that many freelancers have used is email marketing.

In a nutshell, email marketing is a way to build relationships with many of the people who visit your website who might not be ready to hire you right away. By capturing their interest and encouraging them to sign up for your mailing list, you’ll be able to stay in touch with them, build interest in the value you offer and eventually turn many of them into paying clients. It’s a proven strategy that has worked for many freelancers, including copywriter Tom Tumbusch and photographer Michelle Koechle, who have shared their success with this strategy on the links provided. In today’s post I’ll walk you through how to set up a successful email marketing campaign in nine steps, so you can achieve the kind of success Tom and Michelle have. 

Step 1: Select a mailing list service provider

If you haven’t already, your first task is to choose a mailing list service provider. This is simply a service that will allow you to collect subscriber information, schedule emails to be sent to subscribers, and measure important analytics about your email campaign.

There are lots of great solutions. Some of the best priced and most popular include Aweber, MailChimp, GetResponse, iContact, and Constant Contact. Most services start at around $20 per month and will increase in price as your email list grows. The exception is MailChimp, which allows you to have a free account with up to 2,000 subscribers for free. The catch? You can only send 12,000 emails per month. This means that you can only send up to 6 emails to all of your subscribers per month.

So, which email service provider is right for you? My first suggestion is to choose one that you personally find easy to use. That way, you’ll spend less time using the tool and more time getting results from it. Fortunately, most services include a free trial period, which gives you the opportunity to try them out. I suggest subscribing to a few providers. For each of them, create a test list with just your email address on it, and see if you can easily use the email editor, as well as configure the options for opt-in forms (forms placed on your website so that subscribers join your list, which will cover off in more detail later).

Actionable Takeaway: Choose your mailing list service provider. Setup a free trial with your top choices to make sure you can navigate their platform easily to make communicating with your list something you look forward to.

Step 2: Define your target subscribers

The most successful email marketers don’t just build mailing lists full of random subscribers. They build lists full of potential clients. So a key step involves clearly identifying your target subscribers. For example…

  • If a freelance web designer’s best clients are medium-sized businesses in the healthcare industry, they should target marketing directors in that industry, not small business owners or other web designers.
  • If a freelance writer’s best clients are small businesses and magazines in the tech industry, they should target editors and business owners in that industry, not blog owners or other writers.
  • If a freelance photographer’s best clients are recently engaged couples, they should target recently engaged couples in their city, not engaged couples in other countries or other photographers.

If you acquire subscribers to your mailing list that are most likely to become customers of your freelance business, you’ll be able to increase the ROI (return on investment) of your email campaign. You’ll also pay less if your email service provider charges you per subscriber, which is usually the case.

The next few steps will show you how to build your subscriber list with the people you’re targeting?

Actionable Takeaway: Define your potential customers. These will be the people you target as mailing list subscribers so that you can turn each email to your list into an opportunity to gain business.

Step 3: Choose an incentive

You will probably struggle to build a subscriber list unless you create an incentive for people to join. This is simply a freebie that you give away to new subscribers, one that will only be interesting to your target subscriber. For example…

  • A freelance web designer targeting marketing directors at medium-sized healthcare businesses could create a free case study of how a new website design for a healthcare business increased the business’s website traffic and revenue.
  • A freelance writer targeting small businesses in tech could create a free ebook that talks about how to plan a content calendar for a tech business that will attract more traffic and turn readers into leads.
  • A freelance photographer targeting newly engaged couple could create a free guide of the best wedding planning resources in the area.

As you can see, for the most part, these free guides should only attract your target subscriber. Sure, competitors will likely download these items as well to learn more about your strategy, but that risk is worth it when you look at the reward of getting potential customers on your email list. From personal experience, I noticed double the number of opt-ins to my mailing list by adding a free ebook on guest blogging as an incentive for people to subscribe to my mailing list.

If you’re targeting multiple industries, think about ways you can quickly customize your first free incentive for each industry.  With the freelance writer example of a free ebook about planning a content calendar for a tech business, see if you can change out the references and examples to make it fit a consulting business, agency, and other related fields.

Actionable Takeaway: Think about what free giveaway you can use to attract your ideal subscribers / potential customers and create it.

Step 4: Create a squeeze page

Once you have decided on your incentive(s), your next step is to create something called a squeeze page for each incentive. A squeeze page is a page dedicated to one goal: collecting email addresses from your targeted subscribers. The reason squeeze pages are valuable is because it keeps visitors from getting distracted, thereby increasing the likelihood they will subscribe. The page ideally shouldn’t include much more information beyond a description of your incentive, why people will want it, and what they will get from the emails to come.

If you’re not a web designer, don’t worry—it’s easy to create a squeeze page. The first step is to create a landing page. Here are some premium tools and themes that will help.

  • Themeforest Landing Page Templates – Themeforest offers a variety of landing page templates that can be used with or without CMS platforms such as WordPress, Joomla, and Joomla.
  • LeadPages – LeadPages allows you to create squeeze pages on their server (, your own domain, or on WordPress.
  • OptimizePress – OptimizePress is a plugin and theme that works with the WordPress platform. It allows you to create squeeze pages.
  • StudioPress – StudioPress has a collection of themes, most of which come with a landing page template.

The next step is to add an opt-in form to your landing page. Essentially, a landing page becomes a squeeze page with the addition of an opt-in form. If you’re not a designer and you happen to have a WordPress-based website, there are lots of premium plugins that can help you create beautiful opt-in forms, such as OptinMonster, OptinSkin and Subscribers Magnet. In the next step, we’ll cover off other ways to use opt-in forms.

Why do you need a squeeze page? It’s simple. This is the page you will use when you are running a campaign to gain new mailing list subscribers. Some ways you can do this include the following:

  • Post an update on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social profiles about your new mailing list incentive and link to your squeeze page.
  • Create a great cover photo that advertises your free incentives and add a link to your squeeze page in the photo’s description.
  • Use the link to your squeeze page, emphasizing your free incentive, on business cards. If you’re targeting more than one industry, be sure to create different business cards customized to the people you will be handing business cards to.
  • Promote your squeeze page using PPC advertising such as Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and LinkedIn Ads.

Last, but not least, you can optimize your squeeze page for search. Do a little research on keywords that people would search to find the information you are offering in your incentive. Then optimize your page using the keywords in the page’s title, meta description, and on-page content. Learn more about on-site optimization in the Small Business SEO Guide.

Actionable Takeaway: Create a squeeze page that is 100% devoted to capturing email list subscribers. Include just enough copy to encourage people to sign up, but not so much that they leave the page before converting.

Step 5: Place opt-in forms on your website

The next way you’re going to get new subscribers is by adding opt-in forms throughout your website, not just on your squeeze pages. These forms will simply ask people for their name (optional) and their email address.

Opt-in forms can be placed in several areas of your website and/or blog. While it might seem excessive to have more than one, remember that your target subscriber may notice some parts of your website, but not others. For example, someone who is taking a quick look at your site may notice the one at the top of your page, while someone who is reading a blog post may not notice anything until they reach the end of the post.

The following are prime real estate for the placement of opt-in forms.

  • At the top of your website—above or within your website’s header.
  • At the top of the sidebar of your blog.
  • At the end of your blog posts.
  • In the footer of your website and/or blog.
  • On your “About” page.
  • On your “Thank You” pages, such as a thank-you-for-commenting page or a thank-you-for-submitting-a-contact-form page.

The opt-in plugins mentioned in step 4 give you the ability to place your form in various places, for example:

  • OptinMonster lets you place opt-in forms in a variety of places on your blog including floating footer bars, slide-in sidebars, and full-page covers.
  • OptinSkin gives you the well-designed opt-in forms that you can place anywhere on your blog.
  • Subscribers Magnet offers multiple options to place opt-ins including within posts, the sidebar, popups, a checkbox in a blog comment form, Facebook, and many other locations.

Also, remember that opt-in forms are not limited to your own website and blog. All of the earlier mentioned mailing list service providers offer a Facebook app that allows you to create a form on your Facebook page. Once you’ve settled on your provider, just do a Google search for your provider’s name plus Facebook app.

Actionable Takeaway: Place opt-in forms for your mailing list on several areas of your website, blog, and Facebook page to increase your mailing list subscribers.

Step 6: Set up your welcome message

Each mailing list provider allows you to set up a welcome message for new subscribers. This is simply an email that goes out to your new subscribers once they have confirmed their subscription. Most businesses use this to thank the subscriber for signing up to their list, and then tell them a little bit about what they can expect in future mailings.

One great way to get your subscribers engaged and help increase business is to ask subscribers a question that might help turn a new subscriber into a lead. For example…

  • A freelance writer might ask the subscriber what their number one problem is when it comes to content marketing.
  • A web designer might ask the subscriber what is the number one thing that drives them nuts about their current website design.
  • A social media marketing consultant might ask the subscriber what social network they are having the most trouble with.
  • An accountant might ask the subscriber if they have any burning financial questions.

Once you receive responses to your welcome email question, you can start building a valuable relationship with a potential new customer. To save time, if you notice that you are sending the same responses to lots of people, create a template that you can customize for each new response.

Actionable Takeaway: Create a strong welcome email for new subscribers with a question that could draw potential customers into a conversation with you.

Step 7: Plan your email content calendar

The last thing you want when you start building a strong email list is to lose a subscriber’s interest, and that can happen when you don’t email them enough. While you don’t want to blow up their inbox with several emails a day, you also don’t want to go into silent mode for weeks at a time. If your subscriber doesn’t see something from you for a long time, they’ll forget why they signed up for your list in the first place. This can lead to unsubscribes and spam complaints.

My suggestion is to email your list at least once per month. If you always have great content to share, you can boost that to once per week. As you continue to develop your email marketing plan, you can experiment with different frequencies (once per week, once every other week, etc.) to see what generates the most interest from your subscribers.

An email content calendar can help you remember to keep up with the frequency of your mailing list communications. This calendar will allow you to plan how often you will email your list, and what content you’ll use. Your content calendar can include a weekly industry update, special holiday promotions, sharing a monthly case study, and similar items. The goal is to keep everything relevant to your business, but not make every email an advertisement.

Actionable Takeaway: Determine how often you want to email your list and what type of content you want to send to your subscribers. Keep an up-to-date editorial calendar so you keep your subscribers engaged.

Step 8: Analyze your email analytics

Every mailing list service provider offers a comprehensive set of analytics to review. Your analytics will tell you detailed information about each email sent, including open rates, clicks, bounces, spam complaints, and unsubscribes.

Don’t take this information too personally. No matter how great your business is, you’re always going to see a few unsubscribes because people change interests. You’ll also receive complaints, often from people who might be too busy to unsubscribe.

To get value from your analytics, I suggest looking for particular emails that have higher than normal rates. If you see higher engagement (opens and clicks) on some emails, then you will want to send those same types of emails in the future. If you see higher loss of engagement (unsubscribes and complaints) on some emails, then you will want to send less of those types of emails in the future.

Actionable Takeaway: Review your email analytics after each email sent to ensure that you are sending the type of content that your subscribers want.

Step 9: Prune your list

Watching the number of subscribers on your list grow is a wonderful thing, but not if they are not engaged. There are lots of reasons people stop opening your emails. Maybe they changed jobs and no longer have access to the email they signed up with, or maybe they just changed email addresses because of too much spam. Some email providers may have also started moving your emails to their spam folders, meaning that less of your subscribers have the chance to even see your email.

Since most mailing list service providers charge based on the number of subscribers, the last thing you want to do is keep a bunch of people who no longer open your emails on your list.

It’s good practice to prune your list to remove inactive subscribers, and here’s a simple way to do it. Every six months, run a search of subscribers that have not opened any emails from you during that time period. Send that group of subscribers (not everyone) one last email letting them know what they’ve been missing. After a week or two, look at your analytics to see how many people opened that email. Anyone who hasn’t opened that email should be deleted from your mailing list.

Actionable Takeaway: One to two times per year, routinely search for and remove inactive subscribers from your mailing list.

In Conclusion

Here are the steps you need to take to get started with email marketing.

  1. Choose your mailing list service provider.
  2. Identify your ideal potential customers and target them to become subscribers.
  3. Create an incentive that will attract your potential customers.
  4. Add a squeeze page to your website with the single goal of allowing people to subscribe to your mailing list.
  5. Add opt-in forms throughout your website and/or blog in order to increase the likelihood that a visitor to your website will become a subscriber.
  6. Setup a welcome message that greets your new subscribers with a thank you and a question that could qualify them as a business lead.
  7. Maintain an email content calendar so you keep your subscribers engaged with great email content.
  8. Review your email analytics routinely to ensure that your emails are resonating well with your subscribers.
  9. Prune your list once or twice a year so that you are only sending to (and paying for) active and engaged subscribers.

What is your best tip for creating an email marketing strategy for your freelance business? Please share in the comments!

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.