To succeed as a freelancer, you’ll have to be versatile and independently motivated, but the biggest thing is having the client base to keep you going. With steady clients, you’ll always have work, and with work, you’ll know a paycheck is on the way, which means that you’re making it work.
In the beginning of a freelance career, and frankly, for as long as you continue to freelance, finding clients should consume the majority of your energy. The freelancers who excel at their line of work will always have a continuous stream of work. That way, when one job ends, they won’t be left unemployed.
Finding the clients is the goal of anyone who wants to succeed as a freelancer. Several different client-grabbing strategies exist and we have outlined the most effective ones below. Certainly each individual will take to a method in a specific way. Remember that each method could fill a book’s worth of ideas, but here is a basic rundown.
1. Cold Contacting. It used to be called “cold calling,” but since there are so many ways to contact a client now, this phrase is much more appropriate.
The principle is simple. You have to get out and contact your potential clients and sell your wares. To most people this is a very difficult job, as rejection rates are high (IE. the number of potential clients who say “no” is much higher than those who say “yes”.) You need to have a really positive attitude to rejection to make this form of client acquisition work. Having said that, I have never met a person who has mastered the art of cold contacting, who wasn’t a rich person. When mastered, its a skill which can be applied to any industry in the world. As such, this method of sales can then become another skill which you can freelance with.
2. Marketing and Advertising. Finding clients through advertising is certainly the most expensive technique. You have to find a good place to spread the word and pay for space to offer your services. If you can get the right kind of advertising out there, most of the time you won’t have to work very hard once they contact you, as they’ve already decided you’re the right one for the job. The great thing about advertising is the amount of people you’re reaching is far greater than your scope with cold contacting.
Successful marketing and advertising requires an investment of time and money though. You need to research to ensure your campaign is positioned correctly. You need to test to find the mix of words, pictures, sounds and smells which will stimulate a positive reaction from your target audience. Until you find a campaign that works, your most important resources of time and money will constantly be drained. But when you find that one that works, its happy sailing for you my friend.
3. Referrals – This is an extension of cold contacting, albeit typically this type of client acquisition activity has a much higher success rate than cold contacting. As such, your tolerance for rejection does not have to be as high as it does for those going cold.
Trying to get referrals mean tapping your personal contacts to get some new clients. You contact all of your family members, old friends, acquaintances, their friends, friends of the family, former co-workers and so on, finding out if there is anyone they know who could use your services. The great thing about referrals is that it’s much more personal than cold contacting. You’re not a stranger because you have a friend or at least an associate in common. You already have the introduction, while the recommendation is certainly implied, if not explicit. Whether or not your contact has personal experience with your work, chances are they will be happy to recommend you as a person. The client will look at you as a definite option, since you have some common contacts, making you much more attractive than a stranger.
Definitely the best referrals will come from current clients. That say it all: they have hired you, they are working with you at the present moment, they are happy with you and anyone else would be, too. It adds to your credibility.
4. Team up with a company who’s already got the clients. In 2003, after leaving the Superannuation industry in Australia, I went out on my own, parting ways with the database software developing firm which had employed me. After some time working on new projects, it was obvious that I ought to keep going in the same industry, as my expertise was in superannuation. So, while I could have tried to contact all the big industry players, instead I got back in touch with my former employer. The relationship was already established and the clients were all there. We figured out a new type of arrangement, my old employer and I, which would make them extra money while I supported myself for the long haul.
Working with this type of program, my plate has been full for many years, working with the clients that were already in the company’s trust. While I spend considerably fewer hours on the job, I am earning more than I did while working for the company. It works for them, too, as I am an employee who requires no office expenses and only gets paid when they get paid. Actually, the company saves money since I don’t need an office.
It won’t always be so smooth a transition for freelance workers. You have to have some luck along with a great work ethic and timing. Some employers will not start working with someone who left them to pursue different enterprises. They may remind you of who wanted to leave. However, a competitor might be more than willing to try your hand, so remember that there is never only one option.
As you grow in your freelancing career, you’ll quickly learn that there is no absolute and perfect way to find your next client. All of the above are proven methods in their own right, but the most successful freelancers, consultants and contractors will use a mixture of some or all of the above. So try different things, experiment and make your own way with your own style. That after all, is what freelancing is all about.
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