How do you get most of your business? For me, it’s referrals. For fellow freelance writer Thursday Bram, it’s her address book. This guest post from Thursday shows how to make connections and make them work for your freelancing business.
As a freelancer, my business wouldn’t bring me a lot of money if I had to sell it — except for my address book. It’s the main asset I have to work with. I have a computer, some on-going client accounts and not much else that an appraiser would even bother to put a price tag on.
That’s perfectly fine with me. Business is booming, because of that address book. I do minimal marketing and yet I’m turning away work almost constantly. That’s because the right connections really are incredibly valuable.
As a freelancer, word of mouth has to be one of the best marketing methods available to you. There’s no direct cost that you have to budget for, like advertising and the like. Clients prefer to work with freelancers and contractors that come with a referral, rather than someone they find through an online search or the like. All of that adds up to create a situation in which it simply pays off for you to invest time and effort into building up the right connections to bring you word of mouth business.
Think about how many novice freelancers are encouraged to start out by asking their friends and family for connections to people who might need work. Relying on your connections is not something you only do in the first days that you are looking for freelance work, however. It’s easy to let meeting new people and maintaining your relationships by the wayside when you have a full slate of work. It’s the same issue that goes along with marketing for any freelancer — unless you put out special effort, you only go looking for work when you don’t actually have any.
But if you’re willing to invest time in building up your address book, you can smooth out some of those hills and valleys.
For some freelancers, networking is the hardest task we can set ourselves. It’s not uncommon for a freelancer to choose to work for herself so that she wouldn’t have to deal so much with the in-office networking necessary to get ahead as an employee. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us freelancers wind up talking to people more when we’re running our own businesses than we ever did before.
You have to put yourself in the position to make more connections — and they need to be the right connections. Of course, you can make friends with anyone and there will be a chance that they’ll pass your name along to someone who needs a freelancer. But if you have a good idea of who your perfect client is, you can figure out where you can connect with the people who match that profile. That way, you can focus your energy on connecting with people who are actually likely to hire you.
Pick the conferences and events your prospective clients are going to be at, and make sure that you can attend. Even if it isn’t an event that you’d normally be interested in, the people who will be there are more important than the event itself.
While you’re going to have to go out and actually meet some people in order to have any business relationships you can build on, a truly valuable address book is a lot more than just some place to put the business cards you collect at networking events.
I make a point of following up with new connections within a month of meeting them. It helps if you make sure that during your conversation you discuss something that makes the follow up easy — like promising to forward an article you read — but even if you’re only sending out an email to touch base, you’re still doing more than most of the people that were at any given event. It’s my experience that even at an event that was specifically intended to help people network and build their businesses, well under 10 percent of people ever follow up after the event.
Every day, I send out at least three emails to people I already know. I make an effort to meet up with people for coffee or lunch as often as possible, even if the person I’m meeting isn’t going to hire me. I put as much effort into maintaining my relationships (or even making them more valuable) as I do into meeting new people.
That’s what makes my address book more than a list of names: it’s a list of people who like and know me, and know that I’m a good choice for their freelance projects.
Thursday Bram has been freelancing for more than eight years — the last four full-time. She’s the co-founder of EnhancedFreelance.com, a membership site for freelancers ready to up their game.
How do you find most of your clients? What other ways do you find clients?