Leads in the Time of Corona

Ten points if you get the joke, Colombian literature enthusiasts. This week’s data-is-sexy-I-promise tribute goes out to leads, and how we’re approaching lead generation right now.

Lockdown really does feel like 100 years of solitude, doesn’t it?

Okay, I’ll stop.

But it does shed light on the powerful switchover to virtual we’ve seen in recent months. If you’re lucky enough to work in a field that’s been largely unaffected by coronavirus, you may have noticed a change too. Perhaps your workload has even increased.

Let’s crunch the numbers and see if we can draw any powerful conclusions. I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Harpoon.

Where do all the leads come from?

On the minuscule chance you’re not drowning in time tracking apps, I can highly recommend Harpoon. It’s designed for freelancers and agencies, and helps with:

  • Financial planning
  • Forecasting
  • Time management
  • Invoicing
  • Budgeting.

This isn’t a sponsored post – I simply went limited last week and hired my husband as Director of Operations. As a data analytics geek, he relished the opportunity to find me a simple time management app.

One of the best tools we’ve found so far is the lead sources feature. In 2020, this is how Katie Lingo’s revenue has been split, based on leads.

katie lingo lead generation sources

The above chart refers to revenue as a percentage from each client. But first, a few notes on definitions.

Organic (46%)

Organic, rather than the strict SEO definition, is the term I’ve used to describe either those who found me through SEO, or ‘organically’ from my non-paid social media presence. A couple were specific job ads that I responded to, rather than say, people approaching me through LinkedIn directly – which has its own category.

Referral (31%)

Nice and simple. These clients were referred to me by existing clients, or people in my general network, for example York Creatives. Even better, a few are from people who’ve worked with me in one agency role, then moved on to another. Keep in touch, kids!

Networking (16%)

Remember meeting people, in person? With coffee? With beer? It seems a lifetime ago, but these clients were on-boarded through an initial face-to-face meeting.

Twitter (3%)

That’s only one, but I decided it was worth its own category as it’s the only work I’ve ever secured by directly pitching through Twitter.

Shapr (2%)

It’s Tinder meets networking. Chat with potential clients via a swipe-happy app. Useful in small doses.

LinkedIn (2%)

As above, these people came to me specifically because of content they saw on LinkedIn.


The second most important point with this data is that I didn’t acquire all these clients this year. The following data refers to 42 individual clients, some of whom I acquired as early as October 2016.

I still worked with them all this year, but it’s interesting to see how the lead generation process has evolved since the virus hit.

Hence, we have the following:

Sources of leads since October 2016 to present day

Lead sources 2016 to present

Fig. 1. Lead sources 2016-present.

What conclusions have we come to here? Well, let’s skim over the fact that clearly all my clients in 2017 were projects and did not stay on as retainers. I was new to the game and training for a marathon. It happens.

We can also see that organic remains consistent, suggesting that:

  • Pro-actively responding to job ads still pays off, despite the competitiveness of the field
  • Search engine optimisation plays an active role and should be a long-term focus
  • General brand awareness through social media shares keeps us in people’s minds.

There’s also a clear correlation between networking events and new leads. October 2019 followed BrightonSEO, while January 2020 bore the fruits of my drunken labours at various Christmas events.

I see you pointing out the July 2020 anomaly. That was a client I met in September 2019 at BrightonSEO. They don’t always convert straight away!

Lead trends from October 2016 to present

Well, we all like it when the numbers go up. In theory, this should be true of any growing business, so it’s natural to see organic leads growing.

Lead trends 2016 to present

Fig. 2. Lead trends 2016-present.

On the downside, watch that orange polynomial trend line bouncing into the ninth circle of hell. Funnily enough, as you’ll see from the annotation, that is when coronavirus hit. My last networking event was in mid-March, so it’s not surprising to see the drop-off.

So where does it pick up?

What’s really heartening, in both this graph and the one above, is the upward trend in referrals. They say that word of mouth is the best form of marketing, trusted by up to 86 per cent of consumers.

What we learn from this is that we should:

  • Encourage clients to leave testimonials (ideally straight after delivery)
  • Keep in touch by engaging with them, especially on LinkedIn
  • Not get complacent – maintain other lead gen streams e.g. organic.

Total 2020 revenue by lead source

It’s all very well measuring number of clients, but what about their lifetime value? The quarterly revenue chart below illustrates that, by maintaining good relationships, even clients you acquired four years ago can still make up a large chunk of your revenue.

Lead revenue 2020

Fig. 3. 2020 revenue by lead type.

Remember – this chart doesn’t demonstrate the revenue they brought in at the time. It shows the year and quarter I acquired them versus the revenue they brought in this year.

So what have we learned? Face-to-face meetings have tremendous lifetime value; even if new leads start to drop off thanks to corona, the older leads can still reward you months later. Never underestimate the bonding power of a gin and tonic.

If we look at present day, there’s a clear winner: referrals. The majority of clients I’ve acquired in this period have been referred, suggesting that more people are outsourcing talent based on the conversations they’re having online right now.

What can you do? Be part of the conversation. By all means, continue posting content that will keep you fresh in people’s minds, but remember to react, too.

Throw those eggs out of the basket

The Pareto Principle states that we should make 80 per cent of our sales from 20 per cent of our clients. I’ll admit, current figures suggest a far more even split – my top six clients account for around 10 per cent each.

Nevertheless, we should diversify our lead sources and see what works best. As the data shows above, number of leads isn’t always the most important figure – lifetime value may trump those stats.

As with all marketing, there should be a degree of trial and error. But if we’ve learned anything from this exercise, it’s that:

  • Networking is highly valuable, but best face-to-face
  • In its absence, clients are searching based on trusted referrals
  • We should continue to be proactive: post content, and respond to ads!

We’ve also learned that Craig is a data visualisation master. See Exhibit B here. We’re considering launching this as a secondary service to copywriting, so if you need somebody to make sense of your data, hit us up!

lead gen katie
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
24th September 2020