Most freelancers will tell you they rely on word-of-mouth to attract new clients and grow their business. In fact, freelancers often go as far as to say they have a “word-of-mouth-based business.”

Don’t get me wrong, word-of-mouth is the strongest form of marketing — but it’s also incredibly limiting and uncontrollable (limiting because it almost always happens in one-to-one settings, and uncontrollable because you can’t control when and to whom people talk about you and your services).

Whether you freelance or run an international conglomerate, the most successful businesses use multi-level marketing strategies to attract new clients. Word-of-mouth can be one such strategy, but when it becomes the only one, you inhibit growth and control of your freelance destiny.

No wonder so many freelancers become job seekers when word-of-mouth suddenly and unexpectedly dries up.

As a result, it’s imperative for freelancers to proactively market themselves.

A trip down marketing lane

When I talk about marketing with freelancers, the initial response is something like: “Yeah, I already have a website and a blog.”

Marketing isn’t a website or a blog; marketing is the ability to establish and maintain relevance in people’s lives before they’re ready, willing and able to buy what you sell.

The key to establishing and maintaining relevance comes down to what I call the “Networking of Life.” This approach to networking has little to do with business cards and networking events. Instead, the “Networking of Life” is your ability to create and nurture relationships with people in everyday situations, every day.

For example, let’s say you’re a freelancer who offers social media marketing services. One day, you meet the owner of a local coffee shop while you’re there to buy a cup of coffee. During the conversation, the owner asks what you do, and you mention your social media marketing services. The owner shows interest in your services, since she knows social media is an important tool in the marketing shed.

In this situation, most freelancers would try to sell their services right off the bat. With the “Networking of Life,” the idea is to add value up front, and sell later. In other words, I would take the owner’s business card add her email address to my email list, to which I send one email each week with valuable information about social media marketing. I would also search for the owner on LinkedIn and connect with her there as well if she has an account.

Now, I have the opportunity to stay relevant in the owner’s life before she’s ready, willing and able to hire me. I also have the opportunity to build thought leadership and display my expertise via my content, which will increase my value in her mind. If the owner was to hire me on the spot, she would have a preconceived perception of my value, which would presumably be less than the amount of money I’d want to charge her.

It’s math, not magic

Let’s say you practice the “Networking of Life” over the course of three months, and you meet three new people each week, or about 40 people total. Not to mention, each of these 40 people knows other people who will be interested in your services at some point down the line. (Never underestimate the network effect).

With the right mix of marketing (mainly social media and email), you could likely turn 10 percent of these people into clients — and that’s a conservative estimate. In other words, that’s four new clients after three months or so.

Most freelancers would take these numbers any day of the week.