How freelancers win new business

The origins of freelancing may be long ago but the challenges that face independent professionals today and back then remain the same.

Like the medieval knights who weren’t in service to a Lord but were free to sell their services to the highest bidder, the 21st century freelancer “lives or dies by their reputation.”

John Brazier, managing director of the Professional Contractors Group, also told FreelanceUK that “increasingly businesses are recognising the value” of today’s flexible, skilled and mobile freelancers.

But when they don’t, what can freelancers do to maximise their opportunities, earning potential and portfolios?

Freelance photographer David Owens said the answer is often in the freelance community.

“Hang out with other freelancers to compare notes or at least use e-mail or online messaging. It keeps you in touch with other people and restores your sanity.

“It can also lead to more work in that people know what you do for a living then recommend you.”

Michele Bayliss has been a freelance professional for the past 15 years. When asked the best way to secure new business, she hinted the answer lies in yesterday’s assignment.

“The phrase ‘you are only as good as your last piece of work’ has become a cliché partly because it contains some truth. New contacts often emerge when your workload is already high.

“It’s most important to maintain a good relationship with existing clients and impress them, as well as their colleagues.

“Sooner or later one of them will move on and, if you keep in touch, a new opportunity is likely to arise,” she said.

To gain new business, without using the internet, Ms Bayliss advised freelancers to expand their network of contacts – a technique that has brought her more clients than speculative approaches, like cold calling.

“If you are in that position [having to cold call], it pays to do some research,” she said.

“As a freelance PR professional, I also practice what I preach and have contributed to feature articles on freelancing… and work-life balance features.”

To expand their networks, she recommended freelancers attend conferences, meetings and professional functions.

“[These events] present an opportunity to meet a wide variety of new people and a lot of business cards and telephone numbers are exchanged. However, you have to follow up these contacts fairly soon afterwards, unless you are just interested in collecting business cards.

“Genuine business meetings probably provide a better environment for making new business contacts because you and your potential new client will be concentrating on work.”

Jim Callender, a freelance web developer, says the self-employed should be up front about their skills and services when attending meet-ups.

He said: “There is certainly no shortage of opportunities available from conferences to meet-ups. Attend events and make your face known…don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t worry about not knowing everything, specialise in three skills well and get known for these.”

As a digital professional, Callender believes the Web is a must for online freelancers, even if they don’t possess his own technical powers.

“Get good Google listings and have current information on your website so people know you are still around,” he said.

Clients “want 'you' to be the one they want to hire, make it easy for them. Your site’s aim should be a conversion aim of getting them to email or pick up the phone to contact you.”

He also recommended ethical search engine optimisation (SEO). “Eighty per cent of enquiries are from Google results, people searching for someone of my profession.

“This takes time to build up an online presence… [though] I would not recommend paid-listings such as yell.com.

“If you have something good to say people will link to you, also if your website is built correctly Google will have no problem reading your important keyword phrases.”

And if using Facebook or LinkedIn.com, Callender, who last year won his category at the Freelancer of the Year Awards, gave the following tips: don't be pushy or try hard selling; never dismiss anyone whoever they are, and put a photo of your self on your profile.

Asked about how to secure new clients, he suggested: “Get referrals and recommendations, cold calling doesn't work, as you don't know what the potential client is looking for, also it is a waste of resources that you could give to you current clients who love you already. They will promote you if you do your job correctly.”

Emma Brierley, chief executive of creative recruitment firm Xchangeteam, said today’s freelance workers are aligned with their pioneering forbears in the medieval ages.

She told FreelanceUK: “Freelancers are not looking for employers to whom they can belong, but networks in which they can thrive.”



Oct 29, 2007
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