Develop your freelance network
Once I had my goal set, anybody here have a very small network? Not sure exactly who to start networking with? So your main issue is when you come to networking, don't really have that many people in my network, so what do I do? And how do I get started? And that's who's gonna help you build your business. I love this idea of actively going after your network and actively looking for clients. And it's a situation where it's reciprocal. If you work with them and they help you and they refer you or they give you work, that also works for you as you build your business. So we'll talk a little bit about this. I love this chart. It's really simple. I use spreadsheets a lot. So you can take a chart like this, and I like to break it up into people who are clients, right, this is my business. And these are people who I use in my network to build and grow. So the way I look at it is this is my team, and this is my wallet. And that's basically how I break it down. It's really simple, I am not an...
MBA. You will see that a little bit later when we talk about pricing. But one of the things I like to do is this is my team. Who do I need on my team to be successful? Who do I wanna network with? These are people who might be other freelancers, people who understand business, people who really like me and wanna support me, 'cause sometimes I'm freelancing and it's that situation where I'm confused, I don't know what I'm doing. So I go back to my network and I know there are people here who will support me. Now they're not gonna support me financially, but they're gonna support me and say, listen, let's go have coffee, let's talk about what you got going on. Let's figure this out, right. Clients, this is my wallet. I wanna start collecting people who hire freelancers. I wanna start looking at why they hire freelancers and put that down on paper. And figure out exactly what's happening with my network. If I don't write down when I followed up with them, if I don't take notes on what that conversation was about, I can't replicate that when it leads to an actual job. So I do that all the time, whenever I meet with people, and I'm gonna talk about different ways of networking in a minute. Whenever I meet with people, I write down, and I'm not a big card person, I lose business cards all the time, or I have them all over the place. So it's like, I don't even remember who that person is. I take a photo of their card. So I remember who I met on that event. And then I put them into my network list and I put a little note about how I met them and what that's about. Then I follow up. Make sure you follow up. You start the conversation when you follow up. If you don't, and that's that idea of well, they don't wanna hear from me, they're really busy, and that's that edit in your head that starts to say, ooh, they're really busy or they don't need me, you need to learn to tell that part of your brain to take the day off. You get to say, listen, I'm out here actually trying to start a business. How do I know? Let me test it, let me see what they think. Right? And that's a really good way for us to start to look at how important is your network, but also how valuable is it? I might have someone in my client list that I contact every quarter, and business doesn't come my way. But if I keep contacting them, maybe in another quarter as their business grows they'll start looking to me. So I don't let go of them, but I make sure that I keep a schedule together and I keep contact with them. I also highly recommend a mentor. Find someone in your business. When I started my business I had a mentor who did exactly what I did on a much larger scale. So when they became my mentor, I didn't feel, and I'm sure they didn't feel like, I was going to go ahead and take over their business. My goal wasn't, I'm gonna get big enough that I squash your business. My goal was, I wanna learn best practices. And I wanna be around someone. And it was more about someone saying to me, yeah, I made that mistake too. It's fine, you'll be fine. Or, actually, why don't you try this? 'Cause I ran through the same thing that you ran through. 'Cause they've done it before. So find a mentor. And when you get a mentor, most of the time when I work with people, they say to me, I don't know how to ask someone to be my mentor. How do I do that? And it's hard because we don't have the words. So simply, when you start to meet with people, if they are someone that you would consider to be your mentor, and they have value to you and your business, ask them. And simply say, would you consider mentoring me until I get through building my business, or as I build my business? And I often find too when you start meeting with someone, they offer. People like to help someone. They say, yeah, I'll mentor you, I'll be happy to. Then be specific. 'Cause a mentor can often turn into let's have coffee every couple of months and just talk about how we're doing. And that doesn't help us. So be specific, say to them, great. This is what I'd love to get from you as my mentor. I'd like to meet this many times a month, when we sit down I will have three things that I'm working on that I'm either struggling with, or I'm growing and I'd love your input. And then after that we can have fun and talk about stuff.
This question comes from Sarah Williams, and she says, I've experienced scenarios where I've reached out to people I'd like to network with and they've interpreted a simple get together for coffee as me asking for a job. While that'd be great, I'm simply asking to get to know them. How do you properly phrase a networking invite or request?
That is a great question, Sarah. And also, my first ever internet question, so I love that. (laughter) Alright, I love it. Okay, so this is something that I would definitely do. We're gonna talk about informational interviews in just a moment, and give you that language, but it's true, because if you reach out to somebody, the immediate assumption is, you want a job from me. And if you're looking for a permanent job and I work with people who look in permanent jobs as well, when you reach out to someone and you say, I see you're hiring, or I'm interested, immediately is that I want something from you, right? So then you feel that person might feel as if you don't really wanna talk to me, you want to get a job. You're only utilizing me to get to what you actually want. So if you make it specific and actually let them know and be honest. This is the best part about it is it's your business, you get to make the rules. You don't have a manager that says, you should write your emails this way. Every subject line should be this way. So the answer would be, for me, write them a really casual brief email that says, I am doing this, I would love to take you out for coffee because I would love to pick your brain on how you have transitioned into this field. And this is what I'd love to do. So that you don't bring up a job, but if you're specific and let them know, I see people often respond right away. Because I get asked a lot to go to coffee and talk to people. And what I love about it is I get to help. I'm not looking for anything, I don't have this assumption that you need something from me, other than just information. So I love to do that. And if you tell me that that's what you're looking for, that's great. But when it comes to, I'm looking for a job at your company, what happens then is I don't know if I have time to do that. Because now you're not really interested in me. And I love to talk about me. So if you invite me for coffee and you wanna hear what I've been doing or ask me questions about how to get into this industry, then I'm more likely to go ahead. Does that answer your question, does that make sense? Okay cool. So we're gonna talk about that in just a second. So get mentor. I also love associations. Whatever field you're in, there is some association somewhere that does events that talks about what you do, so get involved. Go meet with them, join them, they're usually fairly inexpensive. If you join them when you have events, if you're a member, the events are usually a little bit less expensive, you get an opportunity to go ahead and meet people in your field. I love volunteering at these events. It's the best. I often tell a story, when I first got out to the West coast I didn't know a lot of people, so I was volunteering. And one event I volunteered at, I went, and I'm a little bit older than most of the other volunteers there, they were mostly all college graduates. A little bit older. And so I went and I volunteered. And the best part about volunteering at this event was I had a name badge that was the same as the people who were hosting the event. And so I got access to every place in the event, I got to go into all the rooms where the speakers were talking, I got to talk to people, and people assumed that I had something to do with the event and I knew something because I had this special badge on. I literally was helping refill the coffee urn every time it got empty. That was my volunteer job, right. But I spent the rest of the time networking and meeting people and some of my network now came from that event, 'cause I had total access to it. Now because I volunteered at that event, whenever they have an event, that organization emails me and says, would you consider volunteering again? And what I get to do at that point is say, hey, I would, but I also noticed you're looking for speakers. I'd love to maybe speak at it. Or I'd love to be involved in this way. So I'm growing my relationship. So that's a great way for you to start to get involved. Go ahead and volunteer. People will talk to you about anything if you are in the room with them. If you don't show up, you miss those conversations. It doesn't have to be perfect, it can literally be about what are you doing this weekend, but when you start that conversation you're developing a network. So consider that. I love, that's an easy way, especially for people who are a little bit concerned about how they network. If you sign up to volunteer, now it's measurable. I have to go, right? It's timely. I have to show up at this time at this date 'cause they've actually said to me, this is when volunteers come. And there are huge events all over the place so go ahead and do that. I also like finding people who hire freelancers. How do you find those people? Great question. I would say start with competitors' websites. Many of them will have client lists. And again going back to Sarah's question, I don't need to reach out to that client and say, hey, I'm looking to take your business. But what you can say is, I'd love to take you out to coffee, or I'd love to meet with you to discuss how you hire. Why you hire freelancers. So you can start by doing that. And go to other freelancers. How do you get your clients? Why do they hire you? What's the conversation, how did you get started? I love that. Especially when you start developing relationships with other freelancers because I look at their careers. The first thing I would do, if you're a designer or photographer, something like that, look at other successful freelancers. I do two things. One is I try to recreate their work. 'Cause then I can say, is my work at the level that they're actually succeeding at? So I can check that. And the second thing I do is if I develop relationships with them, I get to pick their brain, and usually they're at a level that hopefully I'll get to. They're turning down work, they're in demand. So when you develop that relationship, you inevitably get that call, I have to turn down this job, can you pick it up? Or, I'm taking a very large job and I need to hire a couple of people to help me with it. Are you available? And that's a great way for you to start to build your first jobs. So your actual freelancer network becomes your client. And that's my favorite, as you grow your business, and this has happened to me a lot, I end up referring people that I just don't have the time, 'cause I'm not willing again to compromise quality, I'm not able to take certain clients, so I refer them to people I trust who I've developed relationships with. I don't see it as, oh, I just let money go. I see it as, I actually helped that client. And down the road, maybe somehow we'll work together again. 'Cause my goal ultimately like I said is do it a little bit better than the next person. If I say yes to every job, the people I work with suffer. Then I ultimately suffer because I'm running around trying to make everyone happy and I'm not happy in the process, right? So that's one of the things I like to do. I also like to target local companies, reach out to them. There's people who work there, and you can find out, call them up, email them, who does your hiring for contract or freelancing, I'd love to get a hold of them. See if you can ask them some questions. How do you hire people? Why do you hire people? It's a great way to get started. And this is the informational interview that we're talking about. When you reach out to people, be casual and be specific. I wanna meet with you 'cause I wanna know how you do this. I often say to them at some point, 'cause I do this as well, I like to meet with people to find out how they hire. Or, people in my business, I will look at their materials, website maybe, and I'll say something to them like, I really enjoy this part of how you market yourself. Or I really like that you do this. Would you mind taking a little bit of time maybe 30 minutes so I can pick your brain? I do something very similar, here's my materials. I get great luck. And I always follow up, so if I send someone an informational interview request and they don't respond, there's always that moment, and I work with a lot of clients who will call me back and they'll say, I emailed them and they won't meet with me. And I'll say, well when did you email them? Yesterday! You know, give them a little bit of time. Email them a week later, and what I often find is someone goes, oh, thank you for reminding me. I was so busy last week but this week I have time, let's set up a time. Takes two to three weeks for people who are busy to go ahead and take time to meet with you so be patient. While you've got this person who you have to follow up with, go email someone else. When you're starting your business, I like two informational interviews a week. So that's your goal. How do you make that goal? Put your plan of action together, it's really really nice. These are the things that I'll ask in an informational interview, and it's okay to have a notebook, write down the questions. It's better to be prepared rather than trying to come off as like, I know what I'm doing. Bring a notebook, take notes. Have questions in your notebook. I like questions like this. Why do you hire this specific type of freelancer? Maybe what was the problem that you had that required you to hire a freelancer? When you hire a freelancer what do you expect? Things that are important for your business. Ask those questions 'cause they'll tell you, and the best part is in an informational interview, they're gonna be really honest, 'cause they're not hiring you. Yet. So they'll lay it out and they'll say, this is what we like, this is what we don't like, this is why we hire. And then you get to ask the best question, what are your budgets usually like? Most people will tell you, or they'll give you a range, and they'll say, this is sort of how we do it. And I love that information. 'Cause I wanna make a living. So I will say to them, what are you paying for for an hourly rate, what are you doing for that? 'Cause I start to do my little bit of information on that so that I know that I'm competitive. So those are some of the questions I would ask. The other place you can go is job boards. Start looking at other people who are freelancing and reach out to them. There are great job boards, there are many of them. And it's a great place to get information. You can see people who've been up there for a certain amount of time, they'll talk about the type of work they do, you can then go to their website, connect with them. I like to ask them questions. I found you on a job board, how effective is this job board? People will help you. But be specific and ask them what you want. And then networking events. There are networking events everywhere. We're gonna talk about brand in a second and just talk about how you develop your story, but the thing I love about networking events is this idea that I can go there, and if I go with a specific goal, I'm gonna meet three people that are either gonna be part of my team or part of my client list, then I have a goal. I love to make a game of it. So I'll bring friends. And the goal is whoever gets three business cards first, buys dinner. The other person buys dinner, right. Make a goal. This is what I need to get, this is how I'm gonna do it. Have fun with it, it's great too 'cause when I make a game of it with my friends, I will literally go up to someone and say, hey, I actually have a competition with that person right over there, and if you give me your business card they're gonna have to buy me dinner. But it's a great way to start the conversation. There's no rule that says I have to come up and go, it's very nice to meet you, I do this for a living, what do you do for a living, where do you live, what's your background, right? Figure out what works for you, and this is a great place to practice. Because if you go there and you have a moment where it's uncomfortable, guess what? You get to go to the next person. Or if you're having an uncomfortable moment you don't have to worry about it 'cause that person will go, hey, nice to meet you, and they'll leave anyway. So go to the next person and practice. It's really easy. I talk with a lot of people who it's difficult, they say, there are not a lot of meetups in my area. My favorite of all is, start your own. 'Cause then you have control over who you bring. You can do specific events, the events you want to have, and you can grow it. And when you have that event, and you're in charge, what happens a lot is then people look at you as that person who's the authority. So part of my marketing materials might be, I've created this networking event or this meet up group, your clients look at you and say, wow, you're a really big part of the industry. That's amazing. Come work for us. So don't wait for someone to do it for you. Go and do it yourself, and this is really easy. It could be go to a freelancers union, they have this great spark events. They're all over the country, it's the best. 'Cause you get to go, and you get to meet people who are trying to do what you do. And then you get to be authentic and say, this is what I'm working on. This is working, this isn't. Start to practice who you are. 'Cause part of this is understanding exactly who you are, so that when you talk to someone they get a good idea and we'll talk about this in branding in just a minute, of who they're hiring. Right? Alright. So target your clients. This is another good one. Don't just hope that someone's gonna find you. I go after specific clients and I build something for them. So if you're a writer, and you know that there are certain clients who hire freelance writers, write something for them. If you're a designer, design something. Like we have some UX designers in the audience today. Do a redesign or usability study for them, and send it to them. When I look at people who hire freelancers or permanent, what happens is the assumption is if I just apply or I just meet with you that's everything I have to do, because now it's up to you, hire me or not. Please like me, right, please pick me. But if you build something for them, it shows you're serious, it also highlights your work, and then they can relate to you better 'cause they understand you understand their product or their business. You're building specifically for them, so they look and they go, oh yeah, this is exactly what we're actually working on in house right now. And we're hiring a freelancer to help us with this. So few people actually add value to their application process or when they go through trying to pitch new clients. So build something specific for them. Bert.
How can I balance targeting clients by sending them specific projects and doing work that's paid, as opposed to the free work that I'm doing for the client?
That's a great point. I don't wanna be doing this all week, because I give up actual paying work, right? So you have to test it. I like to test it and say, okay, I'm gonna put a balance on it, I'm targeting four clients this week that I'm trying to get. Maybe two of them I'm gonna build something specific for them, and I'm gonna give myself a timeline. I'm gonna work three hours for each client, so that's six hours of my week targeting them. If I get work, if I know that both or maybe one of them respond and say, your stuff is great, we'd love to talk to you, I know it's working. And so I might then start to look at instead of having to go after four clients a week, if I go after just two but I'm putting that time in, I'm replicating it and so I've limited actually the amount of time I have to go out and do that, and then I'm getting that additional paid work. So you have to test it. Don't do it once and say, well no one responded, so me adding extra work, you have to do it for a few weeks and test it. I like at least a two to three week test of doing this for a minimum of two clients. And test it. And then it will happen naturally, 'cause as you get work, you won't have time to do that. And hopefully you're moving to the next stage, which is now I'm getting consistent work with these clients, and now I can talk to new clients and say, well, I'm actually working over here, 'cause one of the questions that will come up a lot is, what are you working on right now? What else is happening? So I like to do that. So you have to test it. If you're waiting to bring clients in, and you don't have anything working, you have more time to do that, so it should be happening. But don't put yourself in a position where every single client I go after I build something specific for them. This is more of an introduction, right? Your biggest problem when you enter the market is no one knows you exist or how amazing you are at what you do. So if you show them, hi I'm here, and what I do is really well done, then they'll notice you and they might come back to you and say, oh. 'Cause when I target clients, they may not know they need someone yet. So I'm also telling them, I'm here, and if they respond it might be, we're actually putting together a project next quarter. So it's part of building your network as well. So if you build into it a little bit of time and say, every week I'm gonna do this., it will help you get to that point, so that's what I would do.