Monday, November 29, 2010

How Can I Help You? (Part One)

If you’re a fellow independent editor, writer, or other freelance professional, you may have participated in International Freelancers Day (IFD), a two-day online learning event held in late September.

If you haven’t heard of IFD, here’s what it was all about: About two dozen successful entrepreneurs, most working in communications or creative fields, recorded videos on a variety of topics, such as negotiating rates with clients, drumming up business on Facebook, and increasing your productivity. The videos were available online through October 31. (If you missed them and are curious, check out these notes on many of the videos.)

I watched about half of the videos and took a lot of my own notes. While skimming them, I realized that several of the speakers gave similar advice, though they were speaking on different topics. One common thread running through a few of the videos was the idea that solo professionals often have to give to get. In other words, reciprocity is essential—and it isn’t enough to simply tell prospective clients that you offer excellent service or quick turnarounds, even if you do, if you want them to hire you. Doing fantastic work will help your client once he or she hires you—but getting him or her to give you a chance is the hard part, isn’t it?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried a number of marketing methods. You’ve probably figured out what your target market is and contacted people within that market. If you’re good on the phone, maybe you’ve made cold calls. If you’re more comfortable communicating in writing, maybe you’ve emailed your prospects. If a graphic designer was kind enough to create a postcard for you, maybe you’ve sent cards.

And if you’re anything like me, the response has been tepid. I’ve found that it is very, very difficult to win work from cold prospects, even if you’ve done a lot of work just like the work they do. In many cases, these clients are already working with freelancers who do the same thing you do, or perhaps they rarely or never outsource work. To win work from these prospects, it seems to me that you need to contact them at precisely the right moment—perhaps when a longtime freelancer is temporarily unavailable, or when they suddenly have an unusually large workload. But there is no way for you, the outsider, to know when this will be the case. So what can you do?
  1. Keep contacting prospects over time. If you don’t get a response the first time you call or write, try again in a few weeks or months.  I’m not comfortable contacting no-replies more than about three times, but some would say that you can and should bug them many more times than that. I would do it if I thought it would work, but in my opinion, being ignored three times is plenty.
  2. Give prospects something more than a promise to do great work.
In Part Two of this post, I’ll suggest ways to show clients that you’re not just another freelancer—you’re someone who cares about their business. In short, you’re a partner who will help them succeed. Check back later this week for Part Two.

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