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I’ve said it a thousand times, but I’ll say it once more for good measure: learning how to get consistent freelance work is one of the hardest things us self-employed peeps have to do. Without a system in place, we struggle to grow our businesses and build an income we’re happy with.
When you start landing clients, it can feel seriously euphoric – you’ve made it! Woohoo! But when a project ends or a client drops off the radar, what happens next?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say facing the void after a project finishes or losing a client is the second hardest thing us freelancers have to do.
Why? Because we tend to get caught up in what we do have. When we’re rolling in work and essentially turning away clients because we’re so busy, we aren’t looking further ahead. We’re revelling in the moment (and, why the heck shouldn’t we – we’re rocking it, right?!).
But, as is the nature of being self-employed and being solely in charge of making sure your business doesn’t flop, we have to constantly be working the grind to get consistent freelance work.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend five hours a day pitching new jobs or scheduling promotional Tweets until the cows come home (although it is a good idea to do a little something every day that will grow your business).
Instead, you want to make sure marketing and networking is a part of your daily working life. THIS is how you make sure you have a steady stream of clients every month.
Uh. What? So I have to constantly be in networking mode? I hear you ask.
No, no. If that were the case I’d be a massive failure, because I really suck at networking (I’m one of those awkward people who nurses their drink in the corner – both offline and online).
This is what I suggest instead:
Build a Community to Get Consistent Freelance Work
If you haven’t heard, community is pretty much everything these days. Communities believe in you, they support you, and they are ready and waiting to put in a good word for you whenever the opportunity arises.
For freelancers, community is absolutely vital.
Whether it’s a community of like-minded freelancers working in your area, or whether it’s an online mastermind group (I really need to join one of these), having people around to catch you when you fall, offer supportive words of wisdom, and throw work in your direction is invaluable. It’s the bread and butter of freelancing and single-handedly the best way to get consistent freelance work.
But it’s all well and good me harking on about how glorious communities are, because the thing is – they’re damn hard to create.
Think about it: those charity workers who shake money pots at passers-by? At a base level they’re trying to create a community of passionate people to support their cause. If they struggle to do it armed with cute animals and guilt-trips, imagine how difficult it is for the Average Joe to drum up something that resembles a community.
Spoiler: it’s hard.
But not too hard if you know where to look and if you know how to make connections with people that matter.
So, today I want to talk about three different groups of people who you can invite into your community. They’re people who know you and your work, and can vouch for you.
Basically, they’re not strangers. They’re not people you’ve picked up off the street (which is probably where those money-pot toting charity peeps are going wrong).
Building a community that will eventually lead to a steady stream of freelance clients takes effort, but it is SO worth it when you can quickly reach out when a client drops you or work dries up.
Think about the alternatives.
Say one of your best-paying clients emails and says this is the last month you’ll be working together (this has happened to me in the past and it is TERRIFYING). You don’t have a community to tap into, so what do you do?
- Hurriedly send off rushed pitches to as many job board ads as you can?
- Sign up to UpWork and pitch away?
- Send out Tweet after Tweet offering your services?
Let’s face it, we tend to panic when we’re faced with a situation we weren’t expecting. Which means we’re capable of doing anything.
Example: when the client I mentioned above dropped me I was so panicky I accepted work at a MUCH lower rate than I usually would. I wasn’t proud, but at least I was earning something, right?!
The thing with the methods I listed above, though, is they’re not sustainable. Pitches get buried at the bottom of people’s inboxes, and you have to consistently be prepared to bid and pitch and bid and pitch until you start getting some traction.
It’s exhausting and stressful – not what you need when you’re a tiny bit desperate for work.
Creating a community, on the other hand, is sustainable. Those peeps will be there regardless of how many pitches you send out, and they don’t have the measly life span of a Tweet.
Okay, okay, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
Let’s talk about how you can start building a community in an organic way TODAY.
Building a community with previous and current clients
I’m not saying you should become BFFs with your clients, because things need to stay on a professional level, you hear me?!
Instead, you want to create a solid working relationship with them, the kind where you can rely on each other.
These are the people who hired you because you’re good at what you do and because you provide value, so they are the people who can vouch for your work first-hand. You don’t need me to tell you how important this is.
Even if you finish a project with a client, you want to remain on good terms and reach out to them every now and again to see how they’re doing and whether they might need your help again any time soon.
This keeps you at the front of their mind, and shows them that they can rely on you.
This isn’t the only way you can keep in touch and create even stronger connections with them, though (which, in turn, leads to consistent freelance work). Here’s how:
It’s common knowledge now that email marketing is singlehandedly the best way to build a devoted community.
These people have given you their email addresses because they trust you and like what you have to say. When you on-board a client or even when you end with them, you could ask them if they’d like to sign up to your monthly newsletter where you send out information that could help them (relating to your services) and discounts.
Chances are, if they like what you do, they’ll say yes. Which means, when the work dries up, you can send out a newsletter to your previous clients either a) announcing you have some slots open, or b) offering a discount for the first three people to sign up (or something to that tune).
2. Simply reach out
I have hundreds of clients I’ve worked with in the past, and I know I’ve been guilty of simply letting them fade into history. What I should and could have done, though, is reach out and see if they would like any follow up services.
For example, if I wrote their website copy, I could follow up asking if they’d like someone to write blog posts for them. Or, if I’m a designer and I designed a website for someone, I could follow up and ask them if they’d like someone to create visuals for their posts and social channels. The possibilities are endless.
True story: I worked with one client in autumn last year and when the project finished, we parted ways. In the New Year, I reached out to see how the work I’d done for them was going, and they sent a new, even bigger project my way. I’m not sure this would have happened if I hadn’t reached out to them first.
Staying in touch and on good terms with all your clients is a great way to get consistent freelance work.
3. Refer to them
Referrals are kind of a two-way thing.
Think about it: You’re way more likely to recommend someone if they’ve done something nice for you first, right?
So, if you’re hoping for referrals from a client, you can kick-start the process by referring people their way first.
Note: This shouldn’t be done with an ulterior motive in mind. Instead, it should be out of the goodness of your heart (and only do it if you believe in their product). Niceness breeds niceness, or something like that, so think of it as racking up the karma points. Plus, it feels good to give someone else business!
So, to summarise, basically create deeper connections with your clients than a simple working one. Refer to them, reach out to see how they’re doing, and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask if they need more help!
Let’s move on to the next set of peeps who you need in your community.
Building a community with colleagues
For some reason, freelancers tend to carry their cards close (or whatever that saying is). Maybe it’s because we’re all essentially in competition with each other, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t know.
I’m a big believer in helping others out, though. Us freelancers need to stick together to keep improving this wonderful industry, right?!
So, with this in mind, colleagues are a hugely important part of your community.
They are the people who know what you’re going through. They’re the people who are struggling and succeeding just like you are. They’re basically you but different.
But how can colleagues help you get consistent freelance work?
- Firstly, if they’re overloaded with leads, they can pass some across to you
- They can recommend you to clients that aren’t a good fit for them
- They can point you in the direction of work that you might otherwise have missed
- They can collaborate with you on larger projects
All good stuff, right?!
Okay, but where do we find these mythical colleagues? As freelancers, aren’t we all just tucked away in our basements, rarely venturing out into the big wide world?
There are actually loads of places you can reach out and connect with colleagues, but I’m going to discuss the two major ones here.
1. Facebook groups
Okay, I’m a little bit in love with Facebook groups at the moment. They are seriously awesome. Seriously. See how serious I am about them?
I’ve joined three Facebook groups that are filled with fellow freelancers, whether they’re writers, designers, or entrepreneurs. We get involved in conversations, we share our work, and we generally help each other out. It’s a great environment to be a part of, and it feels like you’re with others even when you’ve been working alone all day.
If you’re interested in which Facebook groups are good, I’m going to be publishing a full-blown post on that soon, but I’m happy to drop some in the comments if you’d like!
How to connect in Facebook groups
- Be helpful and answer people’s questions if you can. Join in conversations and just generally be your lovely self.
- Don’t spam people with your services. This is a sure-fire way to get kicked out of groups and lose friends.
- Ask questions and make yourself known.
- If you’ve had a conversation with someone, be sure to check out what they do by hovering over their name. You might want to connect further by private messaging them, or sending them an email to continue the conversation.
2. Real life networking
When you hear the word networking, do you think of stuffy conferences, suits, and bald men? No? Just me?
But I’ve actually come to learn that networking can be FUN, if you don’t go into it thinking about selling yourself (not in a street-corner-at-night kinda way).
Networking events don’t have to be boardroom style nightmares with expensive drinks and business cards galore. There are loads of other ways you can meet like-minded people in your area.
Meetup.com is a great place to find real-life groups with similar business interests, and don’t be afraid to mix things up – if you’re a freelance writer, you could consider checking out a local marketing event or a web designer meet-up (because web designers often work alongside writers).
How to connect at networking events
- Ask questions. Don’t be that person who talks about themselves the whole time.
- Listen to what people have to say and be interested, otherwise you’ll look like that person at the party who can’t wait to move onto the next group of people
- Don’t necessarily sell yourself. Feel free to take business cards, but don’t shove them in people’s faces. Instead, focus on having meaningful conversations – people are way more likely to remember you this way
True story: A couple of years ago I went to a conference when I first started blogging. I didn’t have any services or products to sell (I solely blogged for the love of it), so I was getting involved in genuine conversations to learn more and meet interesting people. I met a LOT of people this way (mostly because of the free-flowing alcohol).
Span forward a year or so and someone I met there got in touch to commission me to write two pieces for an e-book for a big-name brand. I didn’t even know they worked for this brand, I just knew them as “that person I had a drink with on Wednesday”.
It’s not all about the sell, you see. It’s about the connections, and building relationships with all kinds of people.
Let’s move on to the final group of people who can help you land a steady stream of clients time and time again.
Building a community with followers
Followers. It sounds like such a pretentious word – it’s almost on par with disciples.
But bear with me. Being a freelancer means putting yourself out there, and one of the best ways you can do this is via social media and blogging. If you’re doing these things right, you’ll build up a following pretty quickly. These people like what you do, they have an interest in you, and there’s already a semblance of a connection there (because they followed you or subscribed to you).
These people get your name out there for you while you’re hustling away with clients. They’re basically making your marketing schedule a whole lot slimmer.
Why? Because they’re sharing your posts and promoting your work without you having to prompt them.
How to build a community of followers
- First off, make sure you build something worth following. If your Twitter feed is just you giving a commentary on your food, it’s unlikely to get much traction.
- Provide unprecedented value. If you want people to believe in you and really shout your name from the rooftops, you have to work for it. Give, give, give, and give until you can’t give any more. Let people know that you’re worth vouching for.
True story: In the past few months, I’ve really worked hard on creating a community around Wanderful World and I now know it’s paying off.
How do I know that? Because people are recommending my posts, which lead to my services and my products. In one Facebook group, a member asked how they could start freelancing and no less than THREE people recommended my site – without me even being there.
I was literally gobsmacked. It was an amazing feeling knowing that these people had my back and would go out of their way to recommend me to others.
THIS is the kind of community you want to create. It’s THIS kind of community that lands you consistent freelance work time and time again.
Together with solid client relationships, connections with colleagues from all over the world, and followers who are ready and willing to share your stuff, you’ll have a community that’s on tap whenever work runs dry.
Sure, sending pitch after pitch off to job ads might bring in results in the short time, but creating a base of people who will consistently refer you work and offer you projects is SO much more valuable and sustainable.
This is how I land consistent freelance work, and it’s how the most successful freelancers I know do it.
Yes, it takes time, but if you really want to build a business that isn’t based on fleeting clients and one-off, sketchy projects, this is absolutely the way to do it.
Have you started building a community around your business? What are the best ways you’ve found to get consistent freelance work each month?
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