The first thing I would like to say is that marketing yourself is hard. Unless, of course, you're egomaniacal, in which case you probably don't think of marketing as "marketing" as much as "telling the truth about myself."
But if you're trying to build up a successful freelancing business, marketing is critical.
The first tip for marketing is to decide who you're marketing to. You can employ every marketing tactic in the book, but if you're marketing to the wrong people, you'll never get anywhere. For example, I have two markets. I aim to get work from small to medium-sized companies looking for an experienced copywriter to blogs and web content and whatnot (like Osmosis), and individual writers looking for support and copyediting during the self-publishing process. Because I know who I'm looking for, it makes it easier for me to figure out where they hang out.
Someone selling handmade children's clothes is more likely to be looking for parents, grandparents, aunts, and godparents. Or someone who builds websites is going to be looking for companies without websites, new companies, or companies that need an update--and most likely in a specific industry. Another freelancer, such as a contractor or landscaper, might be looking for a local audience in a certain income bracket, who is looking for certain types of projects to be completed for them.
Now that you know who you're trying to find, you have to figure out where to find them. This is not as hard as it might sound. If you're a small landscaping company, look for people with yards. If you're a writer, look for companies with websites or that create e-books to spread their brand. You might also find magazines, journals, newspapers, or industry-specific companies, depending on what type of writing you're doing. If you're selling handmade children's clothes, look for people with kids.
Then brainstorm ways to reach those people. People with yards probably go into local hardware stores and greenhouses--can you create partnerships with them? They also probably get coffee--try putting up signs in your local coffee shop. Newspaper ads, radio spots, and Facebook posts are all ways to get started.
Once you've brainstormed some strategies, make a schedule, and do something every week or every day to get the word out about you and your business.
This should probably be the first thing you do, actually. Build a website. Seriously. It's 2016. Websites are cheap, easy to build, and anyone who is at least partially computer literate can do it. All you have to do is buy a domain name ($12) and pick a platform. That's it. My first website was on Blogspot. Anyone can do it.
A website serves multiple purposes:
Without a website, most of your other marketing will be less than helpful. The baby boomer generation likes to pick up a phone, but the younger your target audience, the less likely they are to call to find out about you--they want to go online.
So build a website.
To be honest, constantly telling people about yourself only goes so far. You need other people to tell their friends about you. Networking is a great strategy for this. As an introvert, I can tell you that networking is probably my least favourite marketing strategy--but it is also my most lucrative. I go to conferences, I ask clients for testimonials, and I try to make myself an expert in my field.
My most successful form of networking has been to go around to local libraries and give presentations on how to self-publish a book--step by step. Then I casually mention that, oh yes, I do coaching and copyediting, and here's my card. I've gotten at least one job out of every presentation I've done in the last two years.
The only trick is to be friendly, professional, and to know what you're talking about.
This is probably the worst part about marketing--it never ends. But if you go into it realizing that you will never stop doing it, it's not as bad. And if you get into the habit of doing it perpetually, you get used it it, and it's not so bad.
Pick a few things that are easy, that you can do every week. Post on Facebook. Write a new blog post for your website. Take pictures or give samples of whatever you're working on and share those. Browse Craigslist and apply for positions in your field. Hang up signs in local businesses downtown. Send out a mailer. Buy a billboard.
Pick something. Do it.
It gets easier, I promise.