Networking for Freelancers & Solopreneurs

  • Published in Insights

As creative individuals, many freelancers and "Solopreneurs" are naturally introverted people. We're artists, designers, writers, photographers, videographers, musicians... creators that would often rather spend more time within their creative enrironments than schmoozing a crowd of strangers. Finding not just clients, but the "right" clients, can be a daunting task. What is the right kind of client? Well, that's really up to you and whole other article for another day. But it doesn't have to be difficult, and it's really not, to find more of the best clients for you. Here are some ways that I've found are great ways to find more prospects that are a good fit for you and your business.

Provide More Value to Existing Customers

This sounds silly, but we often don't provide maximum value to our existing clients. Notice how I phrased that... more importantly I didn't say, "how do we get the most projects and make the most money out of a client?" Think about how you could provide value to your client in ways they're not even thinking about. Maybe you're creating a new responsive website for them, but they don't have any relevant content to provide, written, images or otherwise. This is a great opportunity to provide those much needed services. Most companies don't have the time and resources to create their own content. Wait on them, and your website project may never get off the ground.

So what to do? And before you go off saying you're not a copywriter, are you really sure about that? I didn't think I was qualified as a graphic designer, and a very visual type person, to be writing copy for my customers. But then I started to think, I actually know quite a bit about several industries that I've worked in and for. Many of my clients are in those very industries, like printing, information technology, marketing, etc. Suddenly, I had a huge knowledge base of information I could draw from and now offer copywriting as a service if it's an industry I know and understand.

If it's not an industry I'm comfortable writing about, I find a freelance writer that has the specific industry experience. I can usually work it out that both of us make a fair wage for the service, and the customer is happy they didn't have to bother with creating content, and are even happier their website project stays on schedule. That's just one way you can provide extra value to an existing customer. If it's a related creative service that you can fulfill yourself, great. If not, find another creative professional to help you out and meet that need. You get to help give a fellow creative a leg up and you build a stronger relationship with your customer.

Writing is a skill useful not just in promoting it as a service, but also for keeping your own website blog fresh and up to date. So, even if you don't think you're an outstanding writer, at least get some practice writing about things you know and offer advice on your own blog. Don't have a blog, or aren't keeping up with it? Reconsider updating it, not just for highlighting your own knowledge base, but Google also puts heavy emphasis on frequently updated AND relevant content for affecting Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings.

Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

Now we're really talking about stepping outside of the introvert artist's comfort zone. I actually read an article recently talking about ways to find new clients, and the author specifically said if you're just not comfortable going to network mixers and meetings, then just don't do it. I was astounded! She went on to list online ways of contacting people via LinkedIn and emails. While those can be great too for prospecting and meeting potential new clients, I find the digital only method to be far less effective.

Don't get me wrong, I was not exactly thrilled about standing in an overbearingly hot ballroom full of strangers in order to hand out some business cards for my first Chamber event. I was even less happy about wearing the slacks and golf shirt to fit in with everyone else's "just arrived from work" attire, as the event began at 5pm. I'm used to working in my home office in shorts and a t-shirt most days. And it was even more uncomfortable than I imagined it would be. It was so hot with 200 plus people stuffed into a small banquet room, I couldn't stop sweating, so much to the point my stick-on name tag fell off repeatedly, and at one point never to be found again.

I had a business mentor tell me once that we grow when we force ourselves to step outside our comfort zones. The more you attend in-person networking events, the more comfortable you WILL become, like anything else, it takes practice. Yes, you'll have to pay a yearly due to your local Chamber. I made my due up by meeting a new client at that first hot and stuffy after hours Chamber meeting. We were both in the outer hallway, which was easily 15 degrees cooler, trying to cool off. We struck up a conversation, but I didn't talk about me or my business. I asked questions about his business, what he does and any struggles he has. Several areas of frustration were quickly uncovered, in particular his company's bad experiences with other graphic designers, fortunately for me a story I've heard over and over again. That's when I was able to offer my services and hand over a business card without feeling like I was there just for me.

And that's just it. If you're in a business where you enjoy solving other businesses' problems, you actually are there for them. Really try to find ways to add value to their business, even if it's just referring them to someone you know that could be a potential client for them, it feels much different than just "selling" to someone. And you're not selling when you are truly interested in listening to what the other person has to say, asking relevant questions and finding ways to help.

LinkedIn and Social Media

LinkedIn, although a social media company, is specifically geared toward the business world, building careers and recruiting. You can organically grow your network with a free plan, but it is limiting on what you can see and do. For example, you can’t send private messages called InMail to people you aren’t connected to. You’ll also get notifications that someone is looking at your LinkedIn profile, but it won’t tell you who it is.

The paid Premium accounts available range in price from $47.99 to $99.99 per month, depending on what features you want and how you pay (monthly or yearly). The only big difference I see between the Premium Business and Executive subscriptions is the Executive version gets double the InMail messages, 30 instead of 15. This all seems a bit steep to me, but if there is an ROI, then maybe it’s worth it. So, I tried the free trial month, which is full featured with 15 InMail messages. I almost reached my InMail message limit just 6 days in, so I made sure I was very particular in who I send to.

What I did notice was the rate at which I was able to grow my LinkedIn network. Organically, and before the free trial, I had 136 connected professionals. Just a few days after, that number tripled to over 400. But what was the quality of those new connections? Well, I quickly noticed LinkedIn tries to make suggestions of people you might want to connect with based on criteria from your already existing connections, your job and career experience, and the areas of interest you indicate in your profile. So, I was getting a lot of marketing professionals, other graphic artists and design agencies, directors of business development, CEOs and business owners. All decision-makers that are my target clients.

So, I found myself hitting the connect button on just about every suggestion because they were so relevant. Kudos to LinkedIn for getting that right. And to be clear, I am not being paid or endorsed by LinkedIn for writing this. And thus far, I haven’t received any responses to my InMail messages, except from an old colleague. Time will tell over the next few weeks if I’m able to make any meaningful new business connections through LinkedIn. If so, it may well be worth the cost with just one new client. Seems like a pretty good ROI if it works out, I’ll update how it works out in a later post.

Facebook and Google advertising are also other ways to leverage social media to advertise your business. But be aware that advertising with the big boys can cost upwards of $500 per month to much, much more. If you have the budget, go for it, but make sure you're spending your dollars wisely on the demographic and geographic targets that are right for you.