How Freelancers Can Work with Small Businesses

30.7 million small businesses in the U.S. need your help

While looking for takers for your freelance marketing services, don’t overlook the enormous small business market. Having been the owner of a few small businesses whose income mostly came from serving other small businesses, I can tell you this: We need your marketing help, but we also need to be convinced of its value, that it won’t squander our limited time and money.

Here are 8 generalized tips for approaching and working with us.


Look outside your front door and to your networks. Small businesses are everywhere, including all over your neighborhood and well-connected to your friend, family, and colleague networks.

  • Pay visits to your neighborhood coffeeshops, bars, boutiques, dental offices, tax accountants, drycleaners, etc. to ask about their marketing needs and offer your services. Start with those businesses you already patronize.

  • Use your networks to get personal introductions to small business owners and make a personal connection.

  • Many small businesses survive and thrive on friendly relationships, high levels of public contact, and word-of-mouth referrals. Use this norm as your entry point for connecting.

  • Initiate informal conversations and express curiosity. Find out about their needs, pain points, goals, competition, and target customers.


Experiment with different industries. Small businesses are bountiful, and they have smaller marketing budgets, which provides you the opportunity to serve more clients in a range of industries. In exchange for the extra hassle, I’ve found this comes with certain advantages:

  • A meta-perspective from seeing similarities and differences in multiple clients from multiple sectors.

  • Creative and fresh solutions generated from that meta-perspective.

  • The ability to easily adapt what worked for a client in one industry to a client in a different industry without problematic overlap.

  • Greater exposure and word-of-mouth referrals for you within different industries and sub-categories of clients.


Condense your expertise into affordable chunks. Small businesses like to buy expertise in small doses and affordable chunks — the former so that we have time to digest the knowledge and incorporate it into our schedule and planning; the latter so that we can control spending and determine the return we’re getting for an expense. Here are suggestions in this area that would appeal to small businesses:

  • A flat-fee, one-hour phone call or in-person session in which you deliver maximum expertise value per minute. The link explains my successful template for this type of call.

  • Offer targeted classes — to those in one industry, those in one neighborhood, or on one topic — to increase hourly income for you and keep costs controlled for attendees.

  • Give hands-on workshops. Small business owners like hands-on learning. It allows them to know things firsthand, have enough capacity to do things themselves, if necessary, teach their employees the basics, and/or have enough knowledge to make informed decisions.

  • Offer useful, short-term coaching in one aspect of marketing. Accountability coaching/check-ins is the sort of practical coaching many small businesses would appreciate.


Focus on maximum impact. Everyone loves the biggest bang for their buck, but most small businesses require it — and, to mix metaphors, try to squeeze an extra pint from the lemon on top of it. In crafting marketing services for small businesses, think about:

  • What can you do that the owner can’t? When possible, make that what a specific owner you’re pursuing can’t do.

  • What can an owner do but you can do better? Sell them on how much better you can do it.

  • What’s important for their marketing — social media strategy? website design? the latest in SEO? video creation? — in ways they may not understand that require you to explain it to them…and do it for them?


Craft flexible and creative payment options. Flexible and creative payment options are not for all service providers. Regardless of the size or resources of any particular client, if you are delivering real value, you should be compensated appropriately. However, if you do have some flexibility or are interested in experimenting in this area, consider these options:

  • Getting paid for your results, such as PR firms that get paid per hit or size/impact of placement.

  • Some combination of base pay plus a commission based on results.

  • Flat fees for a service. This guarantees the owner a known cost but gives you the chance to offer the particular services you know maximize results for your time spent.

  • When/if a business offers something of real value to you (perhaps restaurants, spas, pet services, professional services…), suggest a payment combination of cash and products or services.


Find a way to quantify your results. This is just a business given for all of us.

  • Quantify results from past clients and get testimonials that verify them to use when pitching new clients.

  • When you have results you can quantify, find the pricing sweet spot that pays you for your accomplishment and delivers appreciable value to your client.

  • Continually monitor your results and demonstrate to clients the quantifiable (and qualitative) benefits of what you provide.


Help them grow. Small businesses are a major source of economic growth — in communities, in regions, and even at the national level.

  • Focus on the growth potential your marketing services provide when doing your own marketing.

  • Understand how/if your clients want to grow and strategize on how you can help them do that.


Identify and court the secretly flush. Not all small businesses are cash strapped. Some are just time strapped — and so time-strapped they can’t get around to important things like the kind of marketing that’s going to keep their company visible and the right customers flowing their way.

  • Internet research and commonsense should reveal categories of small businesses that are likely to be flusher than others. Start with things like skilled trades (plumbers, electricians) and medical professionals (optometrists, chiropractors), and build from there.

  • Ask others directly or surreptitiously. Which businesses are thriving in this neighborhood? Who excels like no other in your field? What businesses do you know pay for services like these?


In summary:

  • There are 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S., meaning that there is a virtually unlimited number of potential clients in this area for your freelance marketing services.

  • Small businesses need your marketing help, but they first need to be convinced that you can help them and that it will be worth the time and money they spend working with you.

  • Eight suggested tips for reaching small business owners: 1) Find clients in your neighborhood and in your networks and make personal connections; 2) Reap the benefits of serving multiple clients in different industries; 3) Price and batch your expertise in chunks; 4) Focus on delivering maximal bang for the small business buck; 5) Offer flexible and creative payment terms, but only if it makes sense for you; 6) Quantify, verify, and demonstrate results for potential and existing clients; 7) Assist clients in tapping their growth potential; and 8) Seek out and pursue the small businesses that are currently thriving and can afford you.