Podcast Episode 49: How to Make Creative Marketing Ideas Work

Many new freelance writers are surprised by the amount of marketing that they need to do. Because these activities need to be pursued relentlessly it is easy to run out of ideas and feel uninspired. In this solo episode, Lorrie looks at some creative and unusual marketing approaches that freelance writers can adopt.

Show Notes

Roses are red pub sign

Amnesty hanging people flyers

ESPN Brasil interactive advert

Rock FM air guitars

Accountancy terms glossary

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LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 49 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast that’s here to help you through the highs, the lows, as well as the absolutely brilliants and the unbelievably awfuls of running your own business.

Our home on the web is at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, so head on over if you’re not there already and subscribe to the podcast in whichever way suits you best – there’s an RSS feed, as well as iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio and Podomatic subscription options, so pick whatever you fancy. Make sure you do it, though, because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

On the Podomatic page you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and have a chat to me and my co-host Philippa. You can post your most pressing freelance questions, make suggestions about future episodes and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far.

You’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers, so come and have a nosy!

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host – the lovely Pip. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, when we’ll be recording another dual episode, so stay tuned for now with me and the time will fly by.

This week, I’m going to be looking at how to come up with some marketing ideas that will help you boost your freelance business. While we all know that creative marketing ideas are the ideal weapon for grabbing your target market’s attention, it can be hard to know where to start. In this episode, I’ll be looking at a few of the key components to help you get your creative ideas off the ground but not too far off the ground!


So, as Pip and I have said a thousand times (and it might actually be a thousand now we’re nearly at episode 50!), freelance writing isn’t just writing. If you get into this business because you like nothing better than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), that’s only a small part of the battle won. A huge part of running a successful freelance writing business is marketing yourself and your services, getting business development down to a tee.

If you can do this in a way that grabs the attention of your target audience, and makes you memorable to them, you’re already a huge step ahead of the competition. Marketing isn’t just about you – it’s about your customer. So the key to developing some creative marketing ideas, even before you decide which fabulously inspiring thing you’re going to try, is to start with some preparation. And yes, I know that’s not as fun as getting stuck in, but you know what they say: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” And it’s true, so suck it up.

Firstly, what are you trying to achieve? Maybe you want more clients in a particular sector. Maybe you want to promote a certain type of work – your blogging services, for example. Perhaps you’re trying to establish yourself as an authority in a certain sub-sector of freelance writing – technical writing, scientific writing, academic proof-reading. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, keep that central in your mind as you brainstorm marketing ideas. There’s no point catching people’s attention with a marketing campaign if they don’t know what they’re supposed to think or do once they’ve spotted you.

Jot down the core ideas behind your marketing. Really get it clear in your own mind what you want to achieve – pop it down on a piece of paper, pin it up on a notice board, start an Excel file, get coloured post-it notes and write your objectives on those. Put them somewhere you can view them with a clear mind.

target market
target market (Photo credit: yelahneb)

Secondly, decide who your target market is. What are their motivations? If you’re looking to attract small business clients, it’s likely that cost is going to be a huge factor in their decision to hire you, or not. If you’re looking to grab the attention of huge blue-chip firms or exclusive consultancy firms with a lot of disposable income, for example, cost won’t be such a key issue. They might be more concerned with hiring someone who’s known to be the best of the best.

Put yourself to one side for a moment and think about things that will push your ideal client’s buttons. What do they want? What do they really not want? What motivates them? What will make them hire you?

Brainstorm everything you can think of. Surf the net, get on social media and see what they’re talking about. Read newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Keep an eye on that client’s sector – maybe there’s some legislation that they might be a bit worried about; can you tap into that?

Copy, paste, snip and collect anything that fits with your idea of what your ideal client thinks, feels, needs and wants. This will help you to get inspired, and come up with ideas that will really attract the kind of target audience you’re after.

So, now you’ve done your research and your planning, we come to the fun stuff. Or do we? Well, not quite. Almost, but no. Sorry, it was a trick!

Now, the reason we haven’t quite come to the fun stuff is this: during my research for this podcast, I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for creative marketing ideas for small businesses that, to me, seem either legally or at least ethically questionable. So I want to talk briefly about that, and how, in my opinion at least (and I know I speak for Pip), it’s best to steer clear of anything dodgy, even if it might get you some short-term gain.

One suggestion was to hire a number of interns to do your marketing work for you. While the cheery suggestion was, “Interns Make Dollars and Sense!”, there was no indication that the interns should be paid. Anything. At all.

This is something that both Philippa and I feel quite strongly about – in my view, at least, if you can’t afford staff for your business but you need staff for your business to succeed, there’s a serious problem with your business plan. It’s not acceptable for your business to be dependent on free labour. Free labour isn’t a solution, so let’s knock that idea on the head right now. If you’re thinking that you need to do some business development and you think, “Hmm, I can get some graduates or people who are looking for work to do this for me.”, be careful. If you run a freelance business, it’s not like you’re likely to be in a position to offer people realistic job opportunities afterwards, so I would suggest you just steer clear.

fly posting
fly posting (Photo credit: Belfegore)

I’ve also seen suggestions that fly-posting and glueing your flyers to the front of newspapers is a good idea. It’s not – it’s probably illegal; it’s definitely annoying and I can’t see it winning your business any real brownie points.

For this podcast, we’re going to be focusing on ideas that are creative without being spammy. In terms of long-term benefits, I do always find that ethical and professional work best even if it might take a little bit longer.

So, moving on to the creative side of things, while only you will know what’s suitable for you, your business, your objectives and your target market., there are certain things you can do to try and ensure you come up with some good, actionable ideas. The key to a creative marketing idea is that it’s unique and captures the imagination. For that reason, I can’t come up with one for you now – of course – but what I will do is go through some of the criteria that you can bear in mind when you’re looking to come up with a creative marketing idea. And a lot of these feed into one another – hopefully you’ll be able to sit down, juggle them around in your own mind – keeping in mind your own needs – and come up with something that works for you and your target audience.

First off, emotional marketing campaigns work a treat. If you can make your prospects laugh from their belly up, you’re probably on to a winner. From where I’m standing, intelligent, topical, relatable humour is one way to get into your prospects’ heads where you want them to be.

Now, while toilet or crude humour might be the easy option, try to avoid that – remember that whatever you do has to fit your brand. Unless you’r brand is normally controversial, rude, cheeky, potentially offensive, say if you’re a funny blogger by trade, I’d suggest you steer clear.

If you’re not looking for wit and you want to be a bit sillier, surreal and absurdist humour is a good option. Things that make you laugh but you don’t know why.

There’s a picture floating round the internet of a sign outside a pub that reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, poems are hard, BACON.” and I always think that would have made some really good flyer copy for a copywriter, for example. You could finish up with something like, “Need help finding the right words? Get in touch.” You will have made people laugh without resorting to being crude.

You might decide not to go with humour – other strong emotions can work just as well, so use your imagination. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to target, making people feel sad or envious or worried can all help you achieve your goals. As long as you move someone emotionally, you’ve got a better chance of getting through to them rationally.

One emotive campaign that really caught my attention was by Amnesty International, which, if you don’t know it, is a global human rights organisation that campaigns against the death penalty, torture, rape and other abuses. They ran a campaign using public transport – in each of the little straps that bus passengers can hold on to, they inserted a flyer in the shape of a person with their hands tied behind their back. And on the front of the flyers were photos of people who are blind-folded and they have bruises on their faces – they look like torture victims, basically.

What passengers on that bus saw were people being hanged. Shocking, yes; powerful, yes. When you look at photos of people responding to the campaign, they’re holding the flyers and reading what’s on the back, and that’s exactly what you want. A rectangular leaflet probably wouldn’t have had the same effect. It definitely wouldn’t be being talked about long afterwards.

You might be thinking, “Oh, but I don’t have the resources for something like that.” but the point is that the power of the campaign came from the shape of the flyer, the positioning of the flyer, the content, the message, and not the money behind the organisation. In the grand scheme of things, a flyer’s not a high-expenditure piece of marketing, so it’s not difficult to take and adapt for your own needs if this sparks your imagination.

Secondly, and it kind of follows on, interactive campaigns. If you can get your prospects to interact with your marketing campaign, then you’re over the first hurdle. You can talk at your prospects but if you can get them to interact with you, you’re opening a positive, two-way channel.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being targeted and sold to all the time. If prospects can have some kind of meaningful relationship (and I’m not talking a house, car and two kids – I’m talking however long you need them to pay attention to you) , that eases some of the pressure.

The way you get someone to interact with something is to tempt them into it by connecting with them emotionally. You make something fun, funny, shocking or cute, and often people won’t be able to resist interacting. Humans can be horrible, but we can actually be pretty nice too, and we like to feel connected – which is why these creative kinds of marketing – work so well.

So, if you give your prospects a toy, something edible, a photo opportunity, something that they want to fill out, or colour in, or draw on, or anything else you can think of, you’ve captured their imagination. And if your marketing message is strong enough – that’s a matter of offering and content combined – you should be well on your way to winning new business.

Air Guitar Championship
Air Guitar Championship (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

One of my favourite examples of this was by Rock Radio, who put an empty guitar stand out on the street, along with a big sign offering people a free air guitar. There aren’t many people who can resist a freebie – even an imaginary one! – and there are loads of folk who would leap at the chance to do something a bit silly and get playing a free air guitar – either for their friends, for YouTube, for Instagram, whatever. It’s a brilliant idea. It’s fun and nice without being rude or crude.

One of the real benefits of this kind of marketing now is that people will share things that they find unique, clever, funny or interesting across social media platforms, even if they weren’t the person in direct contact with the marketing material itself. If you can come up with something arresting enough, you could find yourself reaching more prospects than you’d originally planned!

The third point to bear in mind is that your marketing should be relatable. Whether you tap into something like observational humour (for example, the funny little things we all seem to do) or nostalgia to grab people’s attention, or you use clever analogies and metaphors to make something more specific relatable, it’s important that your prospects feel that your material is aimed at them. While it’s not good to have people feel like you’re targeting them purely as a sales exercise (which, usually, you are – you’re looking for clients, not friends, right?), it’s good for them to feel that your material is speaking to them, that you understand them and that you can therefore meet whatever needs they have.

Another way to be a bit more creative about your marketing is to avoid the same old flyers, posters, advertorials etc. and produce something that’s of real value to your prospects. This could be something content marketing-related, such as a blog post, an eBook, or a YouTube tutorial on how to, say, get the most out of press releases.

English: A Swedish box of chocolates called &q...
English: A Swedish box of chocolates called “Aladdin” (top layer, identical to the bottom layer). Svenska: Den svenska chokladasken “Aladdin” (övre lagret, identiskt med undre lagret). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, it could be a freebie – you can get branded-up products from some business suppliers; choose something good quality and useful to send to your prospects (this could be something typical like a mug, a pen, a calendar etc. or it could be something more unusual – I remember when I was working as a secretary, a company was really cheeky and sent us in a tiny little box of chocolates. We were thrilled – way better than the usual invoices. But when we opened the box, it was empty apart from a note saying, “If you’d taken our call last month and arranged a meeting with us, we’d have sent you chocolates.” To soften the blow, they did send us chocolates the next week – it caught our attention and we did have a meeting with them. It’s stuck in my head so it obviously worked!

If you send your prospect something physical, you’ll capture their attention (plus, as a bonus, there’ll be a reminder of you, your services and your contact details floating around their premises if they decide to keep whatever you’ve sent them). If your prospects feel that they’re getting something of good quality for nothing, they’re more likely to be receptive to a pitch from you. They will already be in a position where they’ve benefitted from interacting with you, even just via your marketing material or content, which gives you a talking point to open up discussions with and an opportunity to discuss with them how you could be even more useful (ie. if they hire you!).

Another way to approach this particular technique is to deliver the value in person so you can get straight into your pitch to your targets. Giving a talk at a networking events, offering free tutorials on social media to local business groups, hosting a Google Hang-out – these are all ways to offer something of value to people. Send out your invites and prepare your pitch – you’ve already got a foot in the door.

So there we are: a few pointers when it comes to thinking up creative marketing techniques. While it can be a bit of a brain-fry trying to come up with something unique that will capture the imaginations of your targets, keep aligned with your branding, help you meet your objectives, one good thing about creative marketing is that anyone can do it, regardless of how tight your budget is. Social media, in particular, makes this kind of marketing so much easier.

Make your ideas unique; make them apply to the target audience, make sure they’re in-keeping with your brand, give them value of some kind (whether they’re informative or entertaining) and make them easy to share – whether it’s because they’re so imaginative and attention grabbing that people want to or because they’re easily passed on via social media or other channels. Give your prospects every reason to get in touch.

The various ideas themselves are infinite, so I’m not going to go into them here. What I will do, however, is post a list of different kinds of marketing activities on my website, which you can find the link to on our podcast page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve split marketing activities into various categories, such as marketing materials, email marketing, relationship building, so you can come and grab that list and start popping ideas into each different section. It’s just a way of helping you to organise your potential marketing plans and deciding which one’s right for your objectives and your target audience.

So, I hope that’s been a helpful introduction to making sure you come up with the right kind of creative marketing ideas. Freelancers depend on being to attract new business, but we also need to attract the right kind of business – and without spending a fortune. Use the list on my website to devise the kind of creative marketing strategy that will work for your business, your objectives and your target audience. Step outside of the ordinary with your marketing, and you’re more likely to stand out from the crowd when prospects are looking to hire.


My recommendation this week comes on the back of Pip and I being in the middle of a two-part series about economising. Episode 48, if you haven’t already listened to it, was all about how not to waste money, and how to make savings, and we’ll be finishing off on that topic next week for episode 50.

But, while I was floating around on social media this week, I spotted something that fits in quite nicely with a point that Pip made as we were recording the episode last week – and that it’s good to know about finances, even if – like me – you’re not naturally a particularly number/tax/finance savvy person. The better you understand figures – and all things finance-y, the better you can look after those pennies. And even if you get an accountant on to help you, say, do your monthly accounts and tax returns, it’s important for you to be able to 1) understand what they tell you and 2) know what that means for your bank balance and your business.

For that reason, my recommendation this week is something I spotted on a website called FreelanceAdvisor.co.uk. Now, it’s a UK-centric site so the advice might not be completely right for other listeners, but they’ve published a glossary of accountancy terms. It’s a brilliant A to Z of all those words and phrases your tax advisor or accountant might trot out while you nod and smile and try to work out what they’re talking about, and it’s broken down into easy-to-understand language for easy reference. As well as the more complicated stuff, there are some quite basic terms on there – well, I say basic; they are if you know them! – and some specific kinds of financial and tax legislation that you may need to know about.

Bookmark the page, copy and paste the information into a Word document and save it in your admin folder – whatever, just make sure you keep this list handy and look over it when you get five minutes. Just as marketing is part of freelance writing, so is managing your money – you’re running your own business and it’s unfortunately not something you can avoid. So yes, get your nose out of whatever book it’s in, sit down and have a thorough look at all these terms. Once you know them, life will be a lot easier to manage, and who doesn’t want that?

So, that brings us neatly to the end of episode 49 of the A Little Bird Told Me freelance writing podcast. Fabulous podcast. As ever, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode – come and give us some feedback at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com – try and be kind! You can find all the links to our social media feeds there so if you want to tweet us, tweet us; if you prefer to Facebook us, Facebook us! However you get in touch, don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there – you’ll get every new episode delivered straight to your inbox, which will make tuning in easier than ever.

Pip and I will be back next week, thank the Lord, with the second in our series on how to stop your small business wasting money. In the meantime, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and thank you so much for listening!