When trying to grow your freelance business (or even just keep up with your bills), searching for new clients can feel like all work for no reward. But before you spend all your time and effort scrolling through job boards, focus your attention on maximizing your word of mouth (WOM) potential. A recent study found that 75 percent of solopreneurs get their work through connections and networking.
If you’re an introverted type who shudders at the thought of receiving an industry cocktail mixer invite, then the word “networking” might sound like a nightmare. Instead of panicking, remember you’re that you probably know a lot of people already. And that they know even more people. And that you can find new clients through that tangled web of connections instead of at a designated event or over a series of coffee meetings.
So, how do you leverage the power of the people?
Maintain your own client database & keep it fresh
Go back in your career history, even back to internships, and make a list of the relevant people who might be valuable to connect or reconnect with. If you’re uncomfortable sending a cold email, shoot them an add via LinkedIn, and then initiate a conversation once they’ve accepted your request. Tell them what you’ve been up to, that you’re looking to expand your client-base, and explain your services in the context of their needs.
Be specific in this outreach. If you’ve worked with them before, explain how you might partner again to help them meet their objectives. If they are a new lead, providing concrete examples of some of your recent work and how it relates to their own business goals. Give prospects a reason to respond by making it about them, not you.
Be prepared for responses that indicate no need for your services, or poor timing. Instead of hanging your head, make yourself a note (better yet, set a calendar reminder) to follow up in a month. Don’t be afraid to ask whether your contacts know of anyone who may be interested in outsourcing assignments.. The worst that can happen is they say no, in which case, keep moving down your list!
Don’t ignore friends and family
Mixing your personal life and your business life isn’t always a good call—especially when money’s involved—but asking your circle of trust to hook you up with the members of their squad (or co-workers, gym buddies, hairdresser, whoever) comes with fewer complications.
In these cases, it also helps to provide concrete examples of your work. Provide your immediate connections with a brief rundown of your skillset or preferred areas of interest so instead of them saying “I know a writer,” (and who doesn’t?) they can advertise your expertise and argue your case. Plus, letting them know what type of clients you’re hunting for will get their brains running through a mental rolodex in search of relevant contacts and keep their eyes peeled for any possible targets that come their way. Just make sure they have your contact info on hand so you don’t miss out on any opportunities due to a case of “let me check with them and I’ll get back to you…”
Use social media to network
Not only is social media an effective way to make new friends and expand your social life (even if it’s all online), it’s also a useful tool for buddying up with people in your field or who may need your help in the future. The more you interact with the same people, the stronger your ties will become and your initial GIF thread might evolve into a business partnership or lead to opportunity hand-offs. And don’t underestimate the power of a middleman tagging you in a comment on another person’s post—if a potential client or employer knows and trusts your mutual connection, then they’ll have a reason to look at your resume first.
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Be bold on LinkedIn
LinkedIn’s recent updates are making it easier than ever to find new connections around existing conversation threads and topics. Embrace the randomness! If someone sends you a request and they seem like a potential client fit, embolden yourself to send them a message and continue the conversation. This might result in absolutely nothing, or it might result in a whole new world of opportunities. Either way, it can’t hurt to try.
Finally, the thing to remember when it comes to networking and using word of mouth to expand your business is that you’ll never know who’s friends with who and who does what until you ask. Does that translate to bombarding everyone you meet with questions about their career and their connections? Of course not. But it does mean that you shouldn’t sit back and wait for people to come to you. Keep your portfolio and resume polished, invest in business cards, and get ready to introduce yourself.