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The Key To Freelance Success: Relationship Building

freelancing-relationshipsI used to roll my eyes when I’d hear a well-meaning college professor advise, “Getting a job is really just about the connections you make. You gotta’ know somebody.

A serious student who tried hard to ensure a successful career based on academic success, I was offended that my resume might not matter to a future employer.

I can’t speak for every industry and profession, but I do know that when it comes to operating a successful freelance business, it really is all about who you know. Finding potential clients, winning them, and keeping them are simply not possible unless you have a well-established and healthy network of relationships.

A Freelancer’s Relationships Are The Lifeblood Of Future Work

Relationships give you:

  • Future clients – Acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and relatives may very well become your next paying clients.
  • Referrals – Those who know you and the quality of your work will confidently refer you to their network, bringing you new customers.
  • Testimonials – Satisfied clients’ heartfelt recommendations serve as a stamp of approval for the potential customer who may be on the fence about hiring you or buying your product.

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

Did you happen to sing the song, “Make New Friends,” as a Girl Scout? I did. And its advice is just as pertinent to business-building as it is to any other relationship in life.

Online

Today’s social media tools make finding new friends incredibly easy—and sometimes overwhelming. Instead of going for quantity, focus on quality. Strong bonds with select leaders in your niche will have the most lasting impact on your business and your growth as a freelancer.

  • Target key influencers within your key market. Concentrate on getting to know them, which is impossible by just casually glancing at their feeds. Interact with them and consume their products.
  • Identify one or two online professionals with mentoring or training materials. Become a student of theirs. Learn the way they work a business and put their principles into practice.
  • Once you’re “on their radar” and you’ve had some meaningful interactions, ask for a Q&A blog interview or audio interview. Promote the interview like crazy, and then make it available to them for their use afterwards—with no restrictions or conditions.

Offline

If your prospect list has grown cold, it’s time to speak up about your business in all the social situations you encounter daily.

  • Call former bosses, colleagues, and co-workers. Let them know what you’re doing now and ask them to keep you in mind for any freelance projects.
  • Talk to your friends and relatives. Remind the gals from Bunco night and Aunt Margaret exactly what you do. You don’t have to be pushy, just offer a simple, “Yea, I’d love to add a few more clients to my queue. Let me know if you know of anyone.” (I landed a client after talking with him at our church small group one Sunday night. I mentioned the type of work I did, and he had a need I could fill.)
  • Locate a few local business owners within your niche and create a face-to-face group that meets on a regular basis. You can offer one another encouragement, new business ideas, and troubleshooting techniques. I’ve been a member of a group of Nashville women bloggers for about five years. We get together for coffee a few times a year and help one another with blogging questions. Between face-to-face meetings, we offer support through a Facebook group. Inevitably, members post job leads in the group a couple of times each month.
  • Treat a mentor to lunch or coffee. Find someone in your area who is excelling in your niche. Offer to buy them a meal if they’ll answer your questions for one hour. Most people are flattered to be asked and will eagerly trade their expertise for a sandwich. Follow up with a thank you note and check in with them periodically as you grow your business.

My own freelance career started as the result of a relationship. I was working full-time as an editor at a publishing house when I became pregnant with my first child.  Just before my third trimester of pregnancy, I quit my job to get ready for motherhood. On my last day of full-time work, my boss said to me, “Let us know when you’re ready to work again. We’ll have some freelance projects we’d love to hire you to do!”

That relationship with my former employer was begun more than ten years ago, and his company is still one of my regular clients. (In fact, I have an assignment due to them in two weeks!)

Devote time in your business to intentional relationship building, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

Buy Your Friends

Sparkplugging is starting a new tradition called ‘Spark an Idea Thursday’.  Each week we’ll be sharing some great ideas for a topic of interest to our readers.  We invite you to grab our image and carry the tradition through to your own blog!  If you do, please link back to this post so we know where you were inspired!

OK, so I’m being a little facetious with the title there, but today’s topic for Spark and Idea Thursday is “Spark an Idea that Makes You a New Business Ally,” and there’s something to be said for laying out a little cash in return for a great new ally.

We actually came upon this idea accidentally.  You may remember that some time ago, we invested in a new website for the Berry|Brewer Freelance Agency.  What we didn’t know at the time was that small business we hired would become one of our best clients.  We just wanted a shiny new site and were willing to pay another mompreneur to build it for us.

[Read more…]

Getting Started Freelancing: Act Like a Professional and People Will Believe You

We’re currently working our way through our top ten list of “how to get started freelancing,” and today’s post focuses on being professional. If you’re brand new to the freelancing game, you might feel like you’re anything but a professional ____ (insert your field here), and that’s OK. What you need to keep in mind, though, is that no one knows that but you. In most cases, if you tell someone you’re a professional freelancer, he or she is just going to take your word for it.

Of course, if you’re not acting in a professional manner, then the jig will be up pretty quickly. Your “professional freelancer” persona is going to need to be bolstered by your behavior and your actions. There are a few things that you can do to portray yourself as the professional that you want to become.

Always, always, ALWAYS make your deadlines. Sure, you might get away with it once or twice if you get an extension or get your project done the day after you said you would; but you’re not going to last long working this way. For one thing, you’re not going to get repeat clients, and they are such an important aspect of succeeding in freelance work. In addition, if you miss enough deadlines, it will start to become a habit, and we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit.

Spend a little money. Now, we have argued—quite vehemently, as a matter of fact—that you don’t have to have a lot of money to get started freelancing, and we stick by that. On the other hand, we also believe that if you lay a little money out up front, you can probably advance more quickly. One of the best things you can spend your money on is a professionally designed website. This does so much to improve your credibility, and it will get you jobs. The other area where we recommend you spend a little cash is to have business cards designed and printed. The free ones you get online are cool and all, but a really well-designed card gets a lot of attention, and you’ll be amazed how often you’re able to hand them out (like at a Christmas party, for example).

Network appropriately. Get yourself LinkedIn. Twitter. Blog. Go to local functions. We got one of our best clients because Tamara attended a marketing association meeting one time. When you do these things, tell people that you’re a freelancer and that you have your own business. On the other hand, we recommend that you don’t call yourself the CEO, COO, or something along those lines. It actually looks more amateur than professional. Besides, if you’re really a writer/photographer/designer at heart, then isn’t that a title you want to wear proudly? (There’s nothing wrong with “Senior Designer,” though. ;-) )

Charge what you’re worth. We’ve already talked about setting your freelance rates. One thing I didn’t really mention, though, is that a lot of potential clients will judge you by those rates. If you’re not asking enough, you won’t look professional, and they’ll skip right over you. If you’re charging too little, you may just come across as a hack.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a big secret. Of these four suggestions, there’s only one that Tamara and I did “right” when we started our business. We didn’t have a website when we started, and our first one was built by Tamara’s husband. (We still think of it fondly, but it didn’t do for us what the new one does.) We definitely didn’t charge what we were worth and are still finagling the appropriate rates all this time later. I also believe that we referred to ourselves as the CEO and COO for a short time, which now makes me shudder.

The point is this: You can certainly make it, even if you do just about everything wrong. As far as I’m concerned, there’s really only one major rule to freelancing, and it’s this:

“Don’t suck.”

The rest of it can be learned through trial and error if you have enough time. Or, you can take the advice of people who have already made the mistakes and skip over all the annoying stuff we did to ourselves. Instead of just calling yourself a “professional,” you’ll know that you really are one.

On Freelancing and Feminism

Now that Lorna and I are working in close proximity to one another, we’re doing a bit more chatting about the work and a little less actual doing of the work. We knew this would be an issue, primarily because it’s difficult not to talk when someone you like is sitting a mere three feet away from you for hours of agonizingly long SEO writing time.

One of the positive benefits of working together, though, is having the time to chat about random things that arise from time to time. (Things that would not necessitate a phone call, but that are interesting all the same.)

For example: I have a new client who thinks I am the greatest thing to ever write web copy. He has hired me to overhaul his entire web page, provide regular SEO articles, and rework a brochure for him. He has also referred me to two friends of his who need similar work. Can anyone say “cash cow?”

He’s actually a really nice, gregarious guy, and we’ve chatted on the phone several times. I usually hate phone clients, since they disrupt my comfortable bubble of misanthropy, but I enjoy him. So when he ended a call with, “Thanks, sweetheart, I’ll talk to you later,” I laughed good-naturedly and went on with my business. I mentioned what he said to Lorna, and she replied with, “You know, someone called me sweetheart today, too.”

Of course, that sparked a discussion that was much more important than whatever work we were doing at the time.

In theory, Lorna and I are feminists. After all, we are living the idea that women can have it all: families, fun, and financial success. We are running a business and doing it well. We do not feel unequal to any of our male freelancing counterparts, and we would immediately resent any suggestion that men are inherently better at this work than we are.

However, I can’t help but feel a little guilty that being called “sweetheart” by one of my clients does absolutely nothing to rankle my feathers. All of my education and upbringing insists that I feel outraged he’s not treating me with the respect I deserve as a businesswoman, but in reality, I just think that’s the way he is, and I’m glad he feels comfortable with me (and continually sends more work my way).

Lorna pretty much agrees. She brought up the point that while being respected is an important part of what we do, business – no matter what business you’re in – really depends on being genuinely liked.

Bam! Let me say that again. In business, respect is good, but being liked is better.

We could be perfectly nice, respectable business owners. I could have politely asked the client not to refer to me in terms of possibly offensive endearment, and I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have demanded his money back. But the truth is, he likes my work and he likes me as a person. What more could I want out of a business relationship? It’s why Lorna and I work well together. It’s why we get along so well with our freelancing buddies over at JCME, At Home Mom, and Garden Wall Publications. It’s why we’ve been able to really start to networking with local small businesses over glasses of wine and slightly inebriated hugs. It’s why we’re able to do well and succeed with all of our clients.

Because we all get along. We like one another.

I guess here’s where I’ll open the floor. I maintain that being called “sweetheart,” “darling,” “gals,” or any of those other potentially loaded terms does nothing to diminish my success or confidence as a freelancer. Lorna and I are young, we’re pretty cute, and we’re fun. If we can use that to our advantage, shouldn’t we? Or are we sending the wrong message to our daughters and our clients?

You’re Always Networking

Several months ago, Tamara and I finally got business cards for the Berry-Brewer Freelance Agency. At the risk of sounding a little vain, I will tell you that we absolutely love our cards. We’ve mentioned before that the design was done by Billie Gaura of Rainmaker Marketing, and we <3 her very much. Well, I have even more love for her and those cards after this year’s holiday parties.

My husband, Baby Dot, and I were invited to some friends’ Christmas party this year, and we were very excited to go. We hadn’t seen them for some time, and their parties are always fun. Not only that, but they were totally keen on having us bring the baby, which made things a lot easier on us.

During the party, it was nonchalantly mentioned that one of the other guests was the publisher of a local magazine. “Oh my gosh,” I said to my host. “Do you know what I do?” Within moments, I had been introduced to the Editor-in-Chief and had exchanged one of my beautiful business cards for a sample copy of his gorgeous magazine. I was chirping on the inside to have been so fortunate to have gotten a little face time with the fellow.

The very next day I received an email from this Editor-in-Chief thanking me for the card and complimenting me on our company’s website (also done by Rainmaker, thank you very much). He wanted to run a story idea by me to see if I was interested. Boy, was I! By Monday night of the following week, I had done two phone interviews, learned a heap about the topic, and submitted a 1,110 word article. The Editor-in-Chief was so happy with the piece that he has asked me to turn it into a series running in the next three issues.

When I walked into the party, my agenda included reconnecting with some old friends and showing off my sweet baby girl. Thank goodness I had some of those business cards in my wallet.

The moral of the story: You’re always networking.

(By the way, if you want to read the first installment of the series, check out my article for Q View Northwest.)

WAHM Talk Radio

First, let me start by saying thanks so much to all of you who have already gotten involved in yesterday’s post, “Want to Work with Us?” If you’re a freelancer, leave us a little info about yourself. Who knows? We might be able to get you some work!

But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. Instead of hanging out here, I’d like to encourage you all to head over WAHM Talk Radio. The podcast is hosted by Sparkplugging’s own Kelly McCausey of the WAHM 2.0 Blog, and Tamara and I were her guests this week.

So, if you’re interested in learning more about the ladies behind Freelance Parent, give it a listen. I was worried about figuring out how to download it and everything, and it was a matter of clicking one button…so don’t be intimidated! Not only that, but Kelly is just really awesome, and I’m in favor of supporting her show. :-D

Want to Work with Us?

This post is a little long and meandering because there’s been some big exciting stuff going on for us; and we want to share it with you. If you’re a freelancer, make sure you read the whole thing, because we might be interested in giving you some money.

Here at Freelance Parent, we’ve been hinting around for a few weeks that we’re bringing more people onto the Berry-Brewer team. We started talking about it with “Weighing the Pros and Cons of Outsourcing.” Well, we’ve now hired a couple of folks but didn’t want to make any big fuss about it until we were pretty sure things were going to work out.

We forgot to tell the people we hired about that plan.

Oops. So Laurie Mapp from Halo Secretarial sort of let the cat out of the bag in her comment on Tamara’s post called “Keeping Trade Secrets, Well, Secret.” We have, in fact, brought her onboard in a limited capacity to act as our virtual assistant. It’s one of those deals where the more successful we become (with her help), the more we’ll have for her to do. We are absolutely stoked about it.

Part of the reason that we’re feeling so good about Laurie is because we’ve already been having a great experience working with another Freelance Parent reader. About a month ago, Genesis Davies of At Home Mom Blog joined our team, too. She’s done a great job with a variety of projects that we’ve been able to assign to her. We have a couple of local people who have been getting their feet wet, too.

Last week, Tamara and I were really, really excited, because we finally felt like we were at a point where we could hire a former coworker of ours. It was sort of emotional for us, because from the day we started our business, we’ve been trying to figure out how we could afford to bring this person onboard. Last Thursday we were finally able to sit down with her and offer her a very part-time contract with the Berry-Brewer Freelance Agency. It was awesome.

For four days.

Today we received an email telling us that after thinking it through, she realizes that she really needs to focus on finding full-time employment. We’re bummed, but she’s got to do what’s right for her. One of the reasons that we were so excited about this writer was because she has expertise in a particular area. We were looking forward to having a go-to person for a specific type of project.

When we got to looking at it, we realized that there are a few areas where we’d like to have a go-to person. Since we’ve had such great luck finding reliable folks through this blog, we decided to throw an invitation out to you all.

The Best Marketing Advice for Freelancers

This post is a part of the Sparkplugging Group Writing Project. While we’re not eligible to win the awesome Epson WorkForce 600 printer or logo design by Randa Clay Design, we’re still happy to be part of the ebook. And, really, we wanted to tell you this stuff anyway. ;-)

The Best Freelance Marketing Advice We Ever Got

When the Berry-Brewer Freelance Agency came into being, you could say that my business partner and I were wet behind the ears. I had tried the freelancing game on my own a couple of years before to no avail. My downfall: I was just dreadful at marketing myself.

It turns out that Tamara wasn’t all that great at it either. So, we struggled a bit as we did everything we could to learn the ropes and become successful. We even made “marketing materials” that we thought were going to be our ticket to the big time.

Why did we design these beautiful four-color brochures that would never even get printed? Because that was our understanding of what marketing was. The grand total of our marketing knowledge could probably be summed up as follows:

Business Cards + Brochures + A Blog = Marketing

(It turns out there’s a whole lot missing from that equation.)

The most important piece of marketing advice we got turned out to this: “Align yourself with other businesses who are already marketing to the clients you want.”

For example, we worked with a wonderful marketer when we decided to rebrand our company. Billie Gaura at Rainmaker Marketing was not only good at her job, but she also “got” us. We plunked down what was (to us) a pretty penny in order to have her on our team. (Don’t let that scare you off, her rates are actually really, really good.)

In the end, we ended up being on her team. Now, when her clients need a good writer, she’s quick to say, “I know this great agency…”

Another way that this has been so beneficial to us is by teaming up with graphic designers. For example, we hired Selene Bowlby of iDesign Studios to set up our Nonprofit Perspective blog. Since then, she has referred us to two of her clients. In fact, she is the second designer to do so.

As a final example, we’re also working with a search engine optimization company. They go out and find their clients. They set up plans and packages and prices and the whole nine yards. When they’ve got all that done, they turn around and ask us to write some articles. It’s very low-fuss for us, but it brings in a nice bit of our income these days.

If there’s one thing that has made a difference in our marketing strategy, it has been to have all of these other folks marketing for us. We’re all targeting the same clients, after all, and we have the opportunity to support one another by teaming up for a great customer experience.

If you’re interested in some of the other cool marketing techniques we’ve learned, check out Eight Creative Marketing Campaigns adapted for Freelancers.

Top Ten Blogs for Writers Announced

Last year when we were nominated for Michael Stelzner’s “Top 10 Blogs for Writers,” on his Writing White Papers blog we were more than a little surprised. I don’t think “flabbergasted” is too strong of an adjective, actually. Freelance Parent was still brand-new, and we thought perhaps it was a fluke.

That fluke has bolstered us for an entire year. We were so proud of the award that it even got mentioned in our anniversary video. It became a staunch goal of ours to make the 2008-2009 edition of that list.

We are absolutely thrilled and beaming with pride over the fact that we again placed in the top ten.  Here is the entire list, for your consideration.

  1. Copyblogger: As the undefeated champ, this blog has held the number-one spot for three straight years!  The baby of Brian Clark, this blog keeps winning because of its excellent and educational articles.
  2. Men With Pens: James Chartrand and Harry McLeod are the dynamic duo who continue to deliver rich content and community discussion.
  3. Freelance Writing Jobs: Founded by Deb Ng, this site is the first stop for freelance writers seeking new work and great articles (and it remains a top winner since this contest began).
  4. Write to Done: This blog delivers a steady stream of excellent articles for all writers and is the product of top blogger Leo Babauta.
  5. Confident Writing: Looking for encouragement? Joanna Young will help you take your writing to the next level.
  6. The Renegade Writer: Linda Formichelli and Diana Burell, authors of a book by the same name, help freelance journalists find inspiration.
  7. Remarkable Communication: One part writing, one part marketing and one part selling, this excellent blog by Sonia Simone will help any writer succeed.
  8. Writing Journey: Looking for a great stop on your writing journey? Bob Younce’s blog will refresh and energize you.
  9. Freelance Parent: Two moms, Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry, provide excellent perspective on writing while balancing time with little ones.
  10. Urban Muse: Susan Johnston covers a wide range of excellent topics that all writers will enjoy.

Congratulations to all of the others, as well as to the other 27 finalists.  We are so grateful to our readers, not just for nominating us, but for inspiring us to continually strive to make Freelance Parent the kind of blog that can make this list.

Berry-Brewer Freelance Agency, Year One

I was orginally planning to get all mushy and wax poetic about marking the one-year milestone for our company. Instead, I spent three days making a video about it. Why do I do these things to myself?

As far as home-based businesses go, freelance writing has been a dream come true for us. We’ve had our ups and downs, and the ups have been more than enough to keep us motivated and excited. We definitely think of you all as one of those “ups.” We want to thank you for being a part of our success. We truly believe that we’ve gotten as far as we have because of this blog…because of you!