Network like a pro freelancer
For office-bound or home-bound freelancers, tight deadlines can translate into a busy working schedule. In such circumstances, networking is often the least thing on your mind. As you work till late churning out sketches, drafts and work on multiple projects concurrently, the pile of deliverables can keep building up. However, it is important to take time to network to ensure a large pool of clients for business sustainability. In the event that a key client decides to drop you, or to temporary not engage you due to short term budget cuts or the like, there will still be a stream of clients that can keep your business going until you get a new customer to fill the slot. At the very least, you will have a list of clients whom you have some relationships with that you can pitch and quote to.
Importance of building and expanding a network
The importance of taking the initiative to enhance your existing network is, thankfully, often not neglected by freelancers. This is especially so when the client base is mostly from word of mouth of a satisfied customer. In this case, it makes sense to ensure that your existing client is satisfied. Small gifts, catch up over coffee, and even meetings over dinner can be a good way to connect. Perhaps you can get a heads up on upcoming projects that your client has forgotten to tell you about due to his busy schedule. You may even be referred to a friend who requires similar services.
However, a professional freelancer will go beyond to reach out and expand their network. This is, unfortunately, something that not all freelancers prioritise. Unlike a large organization in which you can socialise with fellow colleagues from the same department as well as colleagues across borders from other divisions or sister companies, freelancers do not have that community to tap on. Knowledge may come from limited sources. For instance, good suppliers may need to be sourced through an internet search instead of getting feedback from other colleagues. This is time consuming, and may not be accurate. With limited socialization, freelancers need to actively network beyond their client base.
How to expand your network
To do so, start by asking your existing clients for an expansion in job scope. You can make it clear that you are open to taking more assignments from other parties within the organization as well. This is especially so since your client may not be sure how much you want to, and can handle. This way, it is easier for you to clinch sales through a referral or recommendation.
When reaching out to this new contact, remember to highlight any extra brownie points that you have. Do not send a default e-mail or message on LinkedIn. Take this scenario for example, you may have heard from a client that his friend from a particular brand is looking for agencies to pitch for a dog photo-taking project. He may be keen to introduce you to him.
Through this, you have already stood out from the crowd as you were a personal recommendation from your client. To build on that, highlight any relevant experiences that you may have. For example, you may have gone for regular or ad hoc volunteering sessions with a local shelter, or have experiences as a salesperson selling dog food and treats when you were working part-time while studying. If you own a dog, or even if you are just a dog lover, point that out to make the reaching out process conversational and friendly. A misconception that many people have is that your experiences need to be directly relevant to the job scope. The truth is that it need not be so, and simply needs to show your passion for the subject matter at hand. This simple customization can take up a few sentences, and only a few minutes to craft, but is sometimes all it takes when there are multiple freelancers with similar portfolios bidding for the same project. Even if the client does not have any ongoing projects, reaching out with a memorable and personable message can ensure that you come to his mind when he is looking for someone to do a new gig, or when he needs to find a replacement for his current freelancers.
Survey your competition
Another crucial point to take note about networking is that it can serve as a means to survey your competition. Through this, you may find out whether you are being paid a premium, at industry average, or is simply undercharging. By learning more about other freelancers in similar fields through talking to them, or through their promotional materials, you can also better brand yourself such that employees will choose you over others. If other freelancers have a blog, look through it and see their portfolio. Compare yourself with them in the shoes of a hypothetical client and determine how you can improve yourself. Furthermore, you can find other freelancers to collaborate with on bigger projects. With a larger team and more resources at your disposal, you have a higher chance of landing the next big project.
By networking with clients, other freelancers, or just people from all walks of life in general, you will get to learn more about the industry. For instance, you may be new to the freelancing sector and is seeking a mentor. Networking well will find you just that. Perhaps you did not plan your finances well, until you met a fellow experienced freelancer who told you to factor in healthcare costs since work perks such as subsidized doctor visits, corporate insurance, annual leave, maternity leave and more typically does not form part of the freelancer package.
Networking can give sanity to freelancers who are sick of working in isolation. Another sure way to network is to try out affordable co-working spaces. Give it a shot for a month and see how it goes. Not only does it allow you to network and socialise, you may be extra motivated to be productive after paying for a conducive venue. Remember that giving your all consistently just for the money as opposed to passion and self-development can result in you burning up fast.
Your side hustle may have stemmed from discontentment with a standard 9-5 job that earns you barely enough to go by. It may be due to curiosity or boredom. However, that small side gig can potentially turn into many more gigs, then bigger gigs. Over time, you may start to have your company website, e-mail, name cards, and even start to hire more staff to help. Who knows? You may be on your way to becoming a big and recognised corporation. Pursue your passion, excel at it, and start charging what it is worth.