The Formula for Getting More Clients for Your Freelancing Business

I can be difficult to do freelancing and to find clients and customers and new business. An earlier version of this post appeared at WritetoDone.com.

Let’s say you work for yourself.

It doesn’t matter what you do.

You could be a coach, a consultant, a photographer, or a pet therapist for neurotic cats for that matter.

For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend you’re a freelance writer. You’re self-employed.

Question: What’s your biggest problem?

Answer: Getting clients. It’s always getting clients.

You’ve tried everything. But actual paying writing projects are still few and far between.

It makes you question whether you’ve got the chops to do what you do, doesn’t it?

Well, good news. It may not be your technical skills. In fact, you may even be a spectacular writer.

But I’ve got a newsflash for you. Being a successful freelance writer takes more than good writing.

Just like being a successful freelance photographer takes more than knowing how to operate a camera.

Sure, you can be a good writer slaving away in your closet and no one beyond your mother and your cat will ever read your words.

But being a successful writer takes something else. Something that might shock you.

Successful Freelancers Know the Value of Relationships

Successful freelancers need to be good at developing relationships.

No matter what you do – whether you’re a coach, a consultant, a therapist, or a self-employed ditch digger. You have to be good at developing relationships.

You need to build the right relationships with key individuals who can help you achieve your freelancing goals.

A lot of self-employed people I know are not so good at this, and perhaps you aren’t as well.

But in today’s self-employed landscape, you need to be an entrepreneur.

You need to think creatively and strategically about your network, and actively cultivate relationships with people who count. In the case of a writer, that would include editors, publishers, bloggers, agents, and potential clients.

Here’s the good news: all of this is not that hard if you know how to do it.

In fact, you don’t need to be a gregarious extrovert.

You don’t need to be more charming than Ryan Gosling. Or more dreamy. So, so dreamy.

You just need to have some discipline and to focus your energies in the right direction.

How Establishing and Building Relationships Can Grow Your Freelancing Business

You may still be wondering why all of this matters, and how cultivating and maintaining key relationships can help your freelancing business. There are many ways your relationships can make a difference to your business.

For example:

  • People like to send business to people they already know, like and trust.
  • By keeping in touch with editors, publishers and clients, you’ll be top of mind when new gigs come up.
  • You may find out about writing gigs and projects that are not advertised.

Now, let’s turn to how you can be proactive about identifying people who you want to establish relationships with and then go about nurturing relationships with them.

5 Steps To Cultivate Relationships to Grow Your Freelance Business

Now, let’s turn to the fun part. Here, I have 5 steps you can take immediately and over the long-term to establish and build relationships that will help your freelance writing career.

1.  Develop a Plan for Who You Want to Target, and Help Them Any Way You Can

Most aspiring freelancers let their relationships evolve naturally and organically. That works well for friendships, but it’s a poor strategy for freelancing.

A much better strategy is to sit down ahead of time and write down a list of at least 50 people who you want to develop a deeper relationship with over the next 12 months.

I call this your “Conversations List” because you are identifying the people who you want to have an ongoing conversation with over time.

Who do you include on your Conversations list? You might include people in your network already who you want to get to know better, people who you met at a conference, or even famous writers, or prominent editors, agents, or publishers.

Ideally, they are people who you would want to become your circle of peers, colleagues, and allies.

Next, it’s time to start providing value to the people on your list. Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Network International) says you need to make deposits into the “relationship bank” before you can make withdrawals.

Too often, people try to make withdrawals before they’ve made any deposits. That’s a recipe for failure.

What you “give” of value doesn’t need to be big – even if you’re providing value to a world-famous individual – but it should be relevant. For example, let’s say you included Stephen King on your list, and you know he’s a huge fan of French food.

I know, weird, right? But go with it.

You happen to know of a brand new French restaurant opening soon in Sarasota, Florida, near his home.

Telling the King of Horror about this new restaurant would be a great way to provide relevant value to him. Even though Stephen King is a world famous novelist, he would likely appreciate the value you gave him with that recommendation.

2.  Choose Your Relationship-Building Tools

Once you’ve identified who you want to focus on getting to know, the second step is to decide on what tools you plan to use to develop and nurture relationships. These tools may include:

  • Lunches and Coffee meetings. A simple tool for getting to know people is to meet for a casual lunch or coffee.
  • Interviews. Interviews are a great starting point for new relationships. Try to use the articles or blog posts you write as an excuse to interview someone on your conversations list.
  • Podcasts. I’ve had over 50 guests on my podcast and it has been an excellent tool for expanding my network. Podcast interviews are far more effective than informational interviews or asking someone to meet you for coffee so you can “pick their brain.”
  • Use Names in Your Articles. Made to Stick (referral link) by Chip and Dan Heath chronicled how small town newspapers have long understood the value of including names of people in their local community within their pages. Do the same thing with your blog and any article you write, where possible. People love to see their name mentioned. (See how I did it here with Chip and Dan Heath?)

Whatever tools you choose, make sure they play to your strength. If you are nervous on camera, then don’t start a video podcast. If you prefer one-on-one to group settings, then focus on individual sit-down coffee meetings or lunches.

3.  Clearly Communicate Your Interest in Working Together

Once you’ve identified who you are going to target, started providing value to them, and identified the tools you’re going to use to connect with those people, you need to clearly express your interest in working together.

Find a way to communicate in a low-pressure way that you “would love to work together” when the opportunity arises. This doesn’t mean you should directly ask for work – especially early in a relationship. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a friend.

One way to communicate your interest in working together is to demonstrate your competence by providing valuable advice. For example, if you are connecting with an editor of a publication, you could suggest an article that provides a fresh take on an issue of interest to their readers. Of course, if they like the idea, you would be the ideal person to write it.

4.  Create an Easy Follow-Up System You Will Actually Use

If you want your connections to think of you first when a writing opportunity comes up, then you need to always be “top of mind” with that connection. And to be top of mind, you need to have a good system for following up.

What does that entail? A follow-up system is simply a dedicated means for checking in with people in your network.

You can create a manual follow up system, or put reminders on your calendar, but neither works that well. I suggest using a simple CRM program (which stands for “Customer Relationship Management”). CRM programs are no longer just for sales people. If you are freelancing, you are in sales, whether you like it or not.

I use a system I love and I’ve written about called Contactually. No matter what system you use, there should be a means for you to identify what relationships are in danger of going stale, reminders to follow up, and a system for tracking your contacts with those people.

 

5.  Revise Your Conversation Lists Annually

Around once a year, you should revisit your Conversation Lists and determine who you should cut out and who you should add.

You will naturally meet new people over time.  You may decide that certain people on your list are not a good fit for you. And you may even decide to take your writing career in a different direction.

By revisiting and revising your lists annually, you will ensure you are developing and nurturing the right relationships, proactively, to support your writing career.

What’s Next? Go Out There and Start Developing Relationships

Now it’s time to put these ideas to work. Be proactive and create your Conversations list of the 50 people you are going to develop relationships with. Then find ways to help them, in whatever way you can.

You will find that developing relationships with people of your own choosing will give you far greater control over the direction or your career and the quality of your freelance writing projects. You’ll start working on better projects with people you love because you choose them, rather than leaving your career up to chance.

It’s a small investment of your time now, but it will make a massive difference in your career in the long run.

How do you develop and nurture relationships to support your freelancing business? Share your tips in the comments below!

 

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