Submarketing: Bringing in business when you're not trying to


If you've noticed my recent blogging silence, and if you know what I've written about purposeful porpoising, you may have guessed correctly that I've been underwater again.

Freelancing while solo parenting doesn't always leave time for business development. If you've tried to do both, you know that I mean. But if you play your cards right, you can have a steady flow of work even with minimal marketing.

Call it submarketing.

Good work means repeat business

Somehow I've managed to accumulate five active projects with which to start the new year. One of them is an ongoing gig for a magazine that's always in the mix. Another is a late-arriving project from a regular client that I thought I would see in November.

Two more, with generous schedules, are from that same client. I already had a full slate and it wasn't looking like I could squeeze them in. But in one case, the author had requested me specifically after hearing a colleague praise my index for her book, so the client extended the deadline so I could take the project. In the other, I'm not really sure why the client offered such a generous schedule. I think it's because I was finally offering to edit again for them because I needed a break from indexing, which is more lucrative. I knew they'd missed having me on board as an editor.

The common thread in all of these is strong relationships with clients over the long term, and good work that prompts authors to recommend me to one another. None of these take extra marketing time. The quality of my performance is its own marketing strategy.

Tiny marketing efforts can yield big results

The fifth project in my inbox, which looked like it was going to be small but seems to be morphing into something big, came from a tiny-turned-large marketing effort.

In 2011 and early 2012, I was on the editorial team for a series of books being produced by a large environmental nonprofit. As that project drew to a close, I told the project team that I'd be very happy to receive referrals for similar work, and I requested their permission to approach the authors I'd worked with to drum up referrals. With much of my time consumed by urgent family needs, I didn't get as far in the latter effort as I wanted to. But the folks at the nonprofit remembered what I'd done for them.

When I was traveling for Thanksgiving, I got an unexpected phone call. The caller, referred by someone at the environmental nonprofit, needed developmental editing assistance stat. The project seemed small, so I explained my scheduling challenges, and we agreed that I'd do what I could in the time we had. That project appears to be morphing into something larger, and it will create a connection to a potential new client, the large philanthropic foundation that is publishing the book.

The moral of this part of the story: make it part of your routine to tell satisfied clients that you would be happy to receive referrals. It only takes a moment, and over time multiple referral strings can be woven into a nice safety net of work.

Submarketing is not enough

These projects will carry me well into February, and more are sure to follow, as they always do. It would be easy to conclude that I don't need to market more intentionally. Easy, but dead wrong. As grateful as I am to have three projects from a single client, it's not wise to put too many eggs in one basket. And I need to continue my efforts to bring in more creative, collaborative, and missional work that is lucrative enough to permit regular trips to the surface.

So what I'm doing in 2013 is changing my personal productivity rules (You have those don't you? How much you need to make; how many hours you need to work?) so I can incentivize professional development and marketing. Because I figure the only way I can break the porpoising habit is to give myself treats for coming up for air.