No matter what field you’re in, skills and experience are never the whole equation. In everything we do, human connections matter. Sometimes, you can still get away with weak relationships – when you have an intern or subordinate to pick up the slack at work, for example.
But when you’re a freelancer struggling to find footing in an increasingly competitive economy, you ignore the power of relationships at your peril. Networking might not be your strongest suit, but taking these steps will help you leverage relationships to succeed in your freelance career.
Communication is essential
Freelancers come from all sorts of backgrounds. Not everyone has been trained in e-mail etiquette or the value of communication, and this can quickly come across as unprofessional when dealing with clients. Sure, you might be busy or have nothing new to report since the last conversation. But take the client’s perspective for a moment. How do they feel if their e-mail goes unanswered after a day? Or when you come up with last-minute questions or objections that could’ve been raised at the outset?
The good news, though, is that you can improve this skill. Polish your writing, simplify your messages, and respond promptly. Seek and provide prompt and honest feedback. Set clear expectations and boundaries early on to avoid misunderstandings down the road. As long as you have ongoing communications with existing clients, you can turn that relationship around and make a stronger impression on new clients.
Don’t start cold
When you start working as a freelancer, opportunities can be scarce. Even if you’re skilled, or have plenty of exposure on social media, the pool of candidates is vast. A lot of other freelancers are doing the same thing; everyone’s odds are somewhat diluted. Learn from what many regular jobseekers have found out the hard way: a warm referral can spell the difference between landing the job (client, in this case) and getting passed over.
You can simply ask existing clients for a referral, but you’ll increase your chances further by building trust in the relationship. Handle yourself like a proper business. Deliver timely results that are in line with the client’s interests. Be helpful, not transactional. See if the client has other problems that you can solve or recommend a solution for.
Make it personal
When you sign up for a club or similar exclusive group, do you notice how they seem to always remember special occasions like your birthday or keep you updated with relevant offers and events? Organizations that invest in membership management make each feel valued. They make the relationship personal through the principles of excellent service.
As a freelancer, you represent your brand and business, but you interact with clients on a personal level. Leverage that while remaining professional. You can make small talk, demonstrate genuine empathy, pay attention to details in a conversation, and recall them later on.
Over time, your clients will think of you as not just a contractor they worked with but a valuable person in their network. This can bring you to the forefront of their considerations whenever a new project comes up, and it certainly helps smooth your dealings with them in the future.
Success as a freelancer might come slowly to those who only rely on their qualifications. We’re all human. Work from that angle, and you can position yourself to a greater advantage.