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Why do solo professionals fail? All too often, it’s because they don’t run the business side of their businesses effectively.
Simply being good at what you do is not enough. You have to manage the basic functions of your business as well. The marketing, the financials, even keeping office supplies on hand.
Ignore any of these areas long enough, and there’s trouble. Taxes go unpaid. The printer runs out of ink. Your pipeline of new business dries up.
Of course, you went out on your own because you’re good at what you do. You want to practice your trade, not be an accountant or an office manager.
But like it or not, basic business functions have to get done. And we have precious few hours to do them in.
To keep the lights on, solo pros have to log a certain number of paid work hours every week. We’ve got to get enough work done for clients so we can bill them and get paid, and we have to do this regardless of whether the printer needs four hours of troubleshooting in order to work. The checks don’t just magically show up the way they do when you’re an employee.
We also need enough time to sleep and to have at least a little bit of a life. Many solo professionals fall into the trap of working all the time. It’s not sustainable, not healthy, and not even good for your work.
But at least one aspect of your business – your marketing – doesn’t have to eat up so much time. It’s possible to run an effective, authentic content marketing program as a solo professional in far less time than you’d think, and in far less time than many solo professionals are already putting in.
Before I show you how to do it, let’s take a look at just how little time solo pros really have for basic business functions, so we can understand why marketing has to be super-efficient.
Why Professional Services Marketing Has to Fit into 43 Minutes a Day or Less
We all have the same amount of time: 52 weeks in a year. Let’s walk through how quickly that gets used up.
We’ll start by giving you three weeks off every year. One week for vacation, one week for national holidays, and one week to do things like support your family, get sick, or manage household repairs.
This leaves you 49 weeks left to work.
According to the SoloWorkForce.com blog, most solo professionals log about 1,680 billable hours per year.
1680 hours / 49 weeks = 34.3 hours a week.
For simplicity, let’s say 35 hours. So the average solo professional needs 35 hours of billable hours a week to earn their income.
If you’ve been a solo professional or a freelancer for a while, you may have just choked a little. That’s 35 billable hours. As you know all too well, many of the hours we work are not billable. Often, a lot of the hours we work are not billable.
But let’s keep going. Let’s figure out how much time you have left to manage your business – to squeeze in all those unbillable hours.
How many unbillable hours of work do solo professionals do?
The average small business owner works about 52 hours per week, so let’s use that as a benchmark for how many hours a week a solo professional might work.
After you’ve completed your 35 hours of billable work each week, you’ve got 17 hours left for everything else. “Everything else” is all the tasks required to manage your business.
These tasks split into four areas:
- Client management and work tasks you can’t bill for
- Office management
52 hours – 35 hours = 17 hours.
You’ve got 17 hours a week to manage those four areas of your business; roughly 4.25 hours a week for each area.
If you work six days a week, which most small business owners do, that leaves you 42.5 minutes a day for each of those four areas of responsibility. Let’s call it 43 minutes.
43 minutes a day for client management. 43 minutes a day for finances. 43 minutes a day for marketing. And 43 minutes a day for office management (things like paying bills, buying supplies, or fixing your internet connection).
If even this seems tight (“I don’t have 43 minutes a day for finances, or for marketing!”), consider how we usually deal with these essential but unwanted business tasks: We either ignore them and don’t do them at all, or we let them pile up until we have to spend a whole weekend doing nothing else.
For example, we spend a whole weekend in March our taxes. Or maybe we do all our office management tasks on Friday afternoons, when our energy level is super-low anyway.
That’s okay for many tasks. But marketing is different. Marketing is best done on a regular basis.
Why Professional Services Marketing Needs to Be Done on a Regular Basis
You probably want to have a steady stream of new business, right? It’s stressful to not do any marketing until your business dries up, and you have no idea where more work is going to come from.
Marketing also needs to be done consistently because we need to stay in touch with our audiences and our client base on a regular basis. Wait too long between communications and people will forget about you.
Fortunately, even though marketing needs to appear to be consistent, with some smart use of marketing automation, batched content creation, and the use of a few marketing tools, it is possible to set up some super-efficient marketing systems for solo professionals.
If that sounds good to you, keep reading. There is a way to get your marketing done in 43 minutes a day.
Minimum Viable Content for Professional Services Marketing
Before you panic when I say “content marketing,” no, you don’t have to write a blog post every week. You don’t even have to write one every month if you don’t want to. This content marketing strategy will still work.
But you are going to have to understand the big picture of what you’re doing.
So here it is:
- Create and publish one piece of content every month.
- Promote and distribute that content.
- Republish and repurpose your most successful pieces of content.
Here’s what you’ll need to do this. (Don’t worry – you don’t have to do it all yourself.)
- 12 blog posts.
One for every month. You need these posts so you can:
- demonstrate your expertise
- give your clients and your prospects something to read and a reason to stay in touch
The goal here is to achieve those two things, but not make it so much work that you can’t get it done.
So here’s what it takes to get those 12 blog posts done:
The average blog post takes four hours to write and is about 1,200 words long. However, blog posts that are 1,500-2,000 words long and take 4-6 hours or longer to write are significantly more likely to generate results. These longer, more in-depth blog posts do so much better, in fact, that you’re going to be dramatically better off if you can suck it up and create them. There’s just too much content available now to get away with 500-800-word blog posts.
So if you can, make that one blog post per month count.
If you’re just not a writer, or you know it’s just not realistic for you to be writing even one blog post a month, cheat. “Cheat,” as in record yourself talking about a specific subject, get the audio transcribed by a service like Rev, then hire a freelance writer or editor to take the transcript and craft it into a blog post.
Once you’ve got this valuable, in-depth blog post, for God’s sake, don’t waste it. Get serious about promoting it and repurposing it so as many people as possible can see it.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of how to do that:
- Use a tool like Missinglettr or MeetEdgar or Lately to share each post at least twenty times over the course of a year. A schedule like this is a good starting point:
- One week before the post publishes, announcing it
- The day it’s published
- Every other week during the first week after it’s published
- Once a week for the first month after it’s published
- After the first month, publish a post excerpting it about twice a month
2. About 2-3 weeks after you’ve published the post on your website, submit it to:
- At least one other article republishing site. Business2Community is a good choice for many solo professionals in B2B.
Republishing your blog post to these sites will increase the number of potential readers by three to ten times what you would have gotten from just publishing the post on your blog. And because you used that specific link to Medium, and waited two weeks after publishing the post on your site, you don’t have to worry about “duplicate content” issues with the search engines.
Republishing on these sites will also give you inbound links to your website, which can help get you more search engine traffic.
3. Reach out to anyone or any company you’ve mentioned in your blog post.
The best blog posts include examples, mention tools, and cite other people’s work. You don’t have to be heavy-handed about this, but aim to mention at least five other people, companies or institutions in every blog post you publish. Then, once your post is published, reach out to these sources and let them know you included them in your blog post. Extra credit if you include a pre-written social media post for them to share, and a concise 2-3 sentence summary of your post.
If even one of these sources shares your content, it could vastly expand how many people see and read your blog post.
So is this all more work that you’re used to doing? Probably. But doing it will make the difference between wasting your time with a blog post no one will ever see, versus having a new stream of business and partnerships for every post you publish.
- 12 email updates.
One sent every month. Each featuring your new blog post, plus a short list of the best resources you’ve found in your industry or niche in the last month. These extra resources are “curated” content, but they’re excellent for adding content to an email update, and they make you look like even more of an authority.
Here’s a section of curated content from Outgrow’s email newsletter:
If you have time, give a heads up to anyone whose content you shared in your newsletter. It’s a good way to make friends and to build connections with people. Who knows, they might even be willing to share your content, too.
If you think it’s unlikely that you’ll have time to compose, design, and send an email newsletter every month, hire someone (or someone else) to do it for you. For roughly $125-175 per newsletter, including copywriting, design, list management and sending, these services can save you a lot of time.
- Two “content upgrades.”
One published every six months. These are also known as “lead magnets” or “freebies.” These long-form content pieces are a way to build your email list, yes, but they are also a way to demonstrate your expertise in greater depth.
Larger, “gated” pieces of content are also a way to continue the conversation with people who come to your website. Unfortunately, almost everyone who comes to your website will leave without taking action. This is true of even the best-optimized websites in the world. But if you can get someone’s email address then you can reach out to them again. So lead magnets are the very first step toward turning a website visitor into a customer.
Usually, a “content upgrade” is a text-based PDF document, but it doesn’t have to be. Videos are a great option – as are any pre-recorded webinars or recorded speeches you’ve done. A brief “video series” sent out as an email sequence can work well, too.
Templates, worksheets, and other “printables” are also excellent content upgrades. You may already have a few of them created so all you have to do is get them looking nice, convert them into a PDF and get the content upgrade system set up on your website. There are freelancers and website services that can set that up for you.
Oh yes – and don’t worry about having to write the ebook. Once you’ve found a competent writer/editor, have them take 3-4 of your existing blog posts and weave them into an ebook. Ideally, you’ll add some exclusive, extra-valuable information to the ebook. But you do not have to completely start from scratch. Also, know that ebooks do not have to be 50 pages long. 3,000-5,000 words is enough.
- One piece of interactive content.
This can be a quiz, an assessment, or a calculator. Whatever it is, make it highly useful to your audience.
People love interactive content. You’ll get more links, more mentions, more shares, and more business from a piece of interactive content. They’re worth any extra hassle you have to go through to create one. (And yes, there are also freelancers and services that can set one up for you.)
- A presence on two social media platforms
Yup – only two. For most solo professionals, these will be LinkedIn and either Facebook or Instagram. If your business is heavily visual or design-oriented, Pinterest could be a smart pick, too. Or if you’re editorially oriented, Twitter might be a better choice than Instagram.
Website designer: LinkedIn and Pinterest
Attorney: LinkedIn and Facebook (possibly Instagram if you’re younger or you simply like Instagram better, Twitter if you tend to share a lot of articles)
Freelance journalist: LinkedIn and Twitter
Ecommerce site for millennial gardeners: Facebook and Instagram
If you happen to enjoy making videos, choosing YouTube as one of your two platforms could be an excellent choice, especially if you’re not wild about writing a lot of your content.
If you are reasonably comfortable on camera (or can share your screen while you do a tutorial), videos can be a superb way to share your knowledge with the world and drive business. You can make little “micro”-videos with tools like Lumen5 to share on your other social media platform, embed on your website, and include in your email updates.
So those are the social media platforms. Next, you’ve got to figure out how often to post. You don’t have much time, so we want to do as little as possible while still having a presence. We’re also only talking about posts here. Ideally, you’ll have a few spare moments every week to go on to each platform yourself, to like and comment on other people’s posts, to ask questions of your followers, or to say thanks personally if anyone has shared your post or content.
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn: 3 posts per week
Twitter: 2 posts per day
YouTube: 2 videos per month
That works out to
3 posts per week = 12 posts per month = 144 posts per year
At about 20 minutes per post for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, you’re looking at (144 x 20)/60 = 48 hours per year per platform. But because you’ll gain some efficiency by only having to adapt different posts to the second platform, let’s cut half the time for that allotted platform, giving you 72 hours.
Does 72 hours seem like a lot? It is. Which is why you really need to outsource your social media work. The good news is that you can outsource this fairly easily, and it may only cost you $100-150 per month. There are plenty of services and virtual assistants that can help with this, and there are dozens of social media scheduling tools that make it easy.
So why invest 72 hours a year on social media, even if you can outsource most of it? Because it makes you visible. Many of your prospects will look you up on social media to verify that you’re legit. They may find you on social media, too – millennials often check Instagram or Facebook first, then only do a Google search later on.
Having a presence on social media also lets you promote your own content. And it allows you curate other people’s content so you look like an informed expert in your field.
Here’s how all these tasks and hours add up:
12 blog posts
4 hours each
12 email updates
2 hours each
2 content upgrades
8 hours each
1 piece of interactive content
Social media 3 posts per week x 2 platforms
~2 hours per week
166 hours / 49 weeks = 3.4 hours a week or 203 minutes per week = 34 minutes per day
Herte’s what it looks like if you outsource half of the email newsletter production and half the social media. It brings your marketing time down to 24 minutes per day.
12 blog posts
4 hours each
12 email updates
1 hour each
2 content upgrades
8 hours each
1 piece of interactive content
Social media 3 posts per week x 2 platforms
~1 hour per week
118 hours / 49 weeks = 2.4 hours a week or 145 minutes per week = 24 minutes per day
Outsource even some blog editing and more of the email newsletters and social media work (much less the content upgrades and the interactive content) and you could absolutely have a functional content marketing program for a solo professional down to 20 minutes a day.
Systems + Outsourcing = Marketing Efficiency
Solo professionals have to make every hour count. We have to be as efficient as possible. And whether you’re doing marketing, or laundry, or even moving troops around a battlefield, the best way to improve efficiency is to have a system.
Does your professional services marketing have a system? It might not necessarily have to be a system like the one outlined above, but if you’re a busy solo professional, please: Use something. You don’t have any time to waste.[optin-monster-shortcode id=”hgfmkwquzbyvbjc0u1wi”]