The last couple of decades have seen a succession of new technologies that have helped creative professionals market their services. First, there were email and websites. Then came Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and as sure as night follows day, there will be another great leap forward in the not-to-distant future.
As technology progresses, anyone who promotes the old methods is likely to be branded a Luddite. And yet, in all areas of our hi-tech lives, there is much to commend tried-and-tested approaches. Thirty years ago, for example, microwaves promised to revolutionise cooking, and yet we still love a slow-cooked meal from a traditional oven. Likewise, the arrival of TV in the 1950s did not kill radio. For that matter, nor has the e-book destroyed paperbacks.
Undoubtedly, the online world offers a host of very useful additions to the freelances’ marketing toolkit. But many people are so fixated on new approaches they forget a very simple maxim that particularly applies to the creative industries: humans buy from humans.
Some products and services are ideally suited to be bought and sold online. If you do your weekly shop via a supermarket website, for example, or click a few boxes to change your gas supplier, you are buying standard, inanimate products. But as a creative freelance, you are neither ‘standard’ nor ‘inanimate’ - you are unique and human (one would hope).
As a human being, you are defined by your personality, your life experiences, your emotions, your hopes and fears. When you try to sell your services to a client, you will form the closest links if you can find more personable ways of interacting. This means connecting like human beings have since the dawn of time: with voices and facial expressions; with handshakes and pecks on the cheeks; face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, communicating openly and sharing other people’s physical space.
This is not to say, of course, that using technology is misguided. On the contrary, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, etc. have totally redefined how freelances connect with potential clients. But these should be seen as complements – rather than substitutes - for ‘old school’ approaches.
Online marketing methods have inherent limitations that are rarely, if ever, acknowledged by their supporters. Email, for example, offers a quick, convenient and free means of getting in touch with prospective clients. The problem is, of course, that every other freelance in your line of work shares this belief, and consequently, clients are bombarded with messages.
If you are unknown to the client, it’s likely your email will be ignored. At this point, you may be tempted to send another email as a ‘reminder’, but the chances are this will be ignored too. If you repeat this pattern, you might even start to question your own worth: constant rejection is a sure way to dent confidence. Alternatively, you might just give up and move onto the next prospective client. But there is a third option.
Twenty years ago, before email became widely-used, the vast majority of initial contact between freelance and client was done by telephone. There was never any guarantee of success but this medium will always be infinitely more human than the written word.
A phone conversation is far more dynamic and immediate than an email exchange. By speaking and listening, you can discuss, negotiate and respond quickly to unexpected statements. The other person’s voice tone allows you to gauge their mood and you can adjust yours accordingly. Phone calls are also far more time-efficient than emails: you can say much more in a minute than you can type, and you don’t need to wait hours – possibly days - for a reply.
In these terms, the phone is clearly more effective than emails for the initial contact, so why don’t we use it more often? One reason is that emails are too convenient: you can write one message, copy-paste it to an infinite number of recipients, click ‘send’ and convince yourself that you have done a good self-marketing job. Not many creative professionals enjoy the process of selling their services so email is often seen as a panacea. For the reasons outlined above, however, it is not.
Contrary to received wisdom, technology does not provide the answer to all our problems. This was true of the microwave and the television, and it applies equally to social media and other online technologies. It is also highly debateable if technology can ever hope to offer a truly effective and complete marketing solution for the creative professional.
This is not to say, of course, that we should dump our laptops and go back to handwritten letters. A website, for example, is an excellent way of telling the world about your skills and experience but it is unlikely that you will be offered a commission on the strength of your online presence alone. To make the most of new technology, we need to blend it with the best of the old techniques.