The first strategy to kick off this Finding Clients series has to be – referrals from your existing network. It’s the most common way that freelancers, both experienced and new, find their clients.
What it means:
This strategy makes the most of the credentials and relationships that you have built up during your professional life to date. You simply let as many people as possible know that you are available for work, with the aim that one of them will decide to use your skills or recommend you to others.
How to do it:
- Identify all of the ex-colleagues and relevant industry contacts with whom you have a good relationship. You could also include friends and family if they might know (or be) potential clients.
- Contact them for a general catch-up (by phone, email, LinkedIn, etc) and to let them know you are now freelancing in this area. Without giving a hard sell, try to drop into the conversation who you help, what problems you solve and where to find you online.
- If you know them really well, you could ask more directly for referrals whilst still giving them the choice e.g. “do you happen to know anyone in company x – they look like they’d be an ideal client for me”.
- You should also update your status on LinkedIn (and any other social media profiles you have) to say that you’re currently looking for freelance work, so that your extended network of contacts (who you might not want to contact individually) can see that you’re available.
- This isn’t a one-off activity – you need to constantly nurture relationships with your network and knock the socks off every new client to make sure that you’re top of mind next time one of those people need your skills. Keep track of who you’ve contacted and when, whether any follow-up is required, personal details you might want to remember when you next speak to them, etc.
- Try to help out the members of your network in any way you can – thoughtfulness is contagious.
- Remember to thank anyone who does send a referral your way, and make a polite request for a testimonial after each project you complete.
The Freelance Parents view:
Don’t worry if you’ve had some years away from your professional network whilst looking after your children. LinkedIn has made it a totally acceptable and common practice to contact colleagues with whom you haven’t had contact in years. Make sure your profile looks professional and ask them to connect. If they accept your invitation, you can send them a friendly note finding out what they’re up to and mentioning your own situation. Recruiting new people is such a minefield – you might just find that your ex-colleagues would jump at the chance to work with someone who they already know and trust.
If you’re shifting into a different industry, this strategy might be less useful (as your network may not have use for your new skill, or may only be willing to recommend you for the skills for which they know you). In this case, focus on friends and family, and the people in your network who value you for your transferable skills (reliability, meeting deadlines, coping under pressure, etc).
Be aware that working for friends and family directly can be tricky – you may find it hard to address any problems that arise on the project or to charge a reasonable fee.
What other freelancers say:
I approached someone who’d recently left the company I then worked for to see if they had any work – they did… still working for them some 8 years later. Back then I did the freelance work from home in the evenings after the day job! Now it’s a core part of my income.
It was all about my past contacts and networking.
My first client was word of mouth, and still most come that way. That’s why it’s so important always to give great service! I love the saying ‘you’re only as good as your last job’. Complacency is dangerous…
Word of mouth for me!
To round up:
The beauty of tapping into your existing network is that the leads which come your way have already got a good opinion of you (either through recommendation or their own experiences with you), so they’re much easier to convert into clients. Commit time to developing your network every day, and you should soon find that it starts to gather some momentum of its own. We’ll talk about techniques to expand your network later in the series.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with finding work through your existing contacts – successful or disastrous! Please do let us hear it in the comments below.
Next strategy: Freelance job sites