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.


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.


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.


  1. says

    Mary, this is a fantastic post. Every word is true. You can have the most wonderful product or service, but if you don’t have relationships and people to help you promote and put in a good word, success will take much, much longer. Thank you for sharing.
    Robin Smith recently posted..Hillbilly CaviarMy Profile

  2. Debora Humphries says

    Awesome post Mary! I had to learn the hard way myself when I was working offline in the construction business, that it absolutely takes connections with others to get clients.

    I really like the way you used personal examples from your experience to get the point across. Love it. Thank you for sharing with us. :)

  3. says

    I used to cringe at the notion of “it”s all about who you know,” but the older I get the more I can see how true that is. Thanks for a fresh take on it, and for sharing great examples of ways we can put ourselves out there in the hopes of getting more business.
    kathleen recently posted..Vintage Suitcase Side TableMy Profile

  4. Mary Bernard says

    You know, the competition aspect is a really good point. I agree that sometimes we shy away from networking with others in our niche because we view them as the competition. But again, I have landed some long-term freelance clients because I was referred to them by one of my colleagues who could not take new clients at the time.

    Appreciate your commenting, Jenn!
    Mary Bernard recently posted..The Key To Freelance Success: Relationship BuildingMy Profile

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