How to Be the First in Line for Freelance Work
Isn’t it discouraging when prospective clients don’t hire you or even respond to your marketing?
The reason is usually simple.
Don’t Miss Out on Great Clients
Many freelancers miss out on working with great clients because they never or rarely follow up.
And when the prospect does need freelance help, the last freelancer who’s been in touch is usually the first in line for the work.
There are lots of reasons for not following up:
- Being rejected hurts
- You don’t want to bug the prospect
- “Selling yourself” is so hateful that you can’t bear the thought of doing it again anytime soon
- . . .
When a prospect ignores you, it’s rarely personal. He or she is just very busy and focused on priorities. Hiring a freelancer isn’t one right now.
Don’t Give Away Interested Prospects or Inactive Clients
Not following up with interested prospects is especially sad. These are prospects who do respond to your marketing but don’t need freelance help right away. They may say something like:
- “We’ll put you in our freelance database.”
- “We’ll keep you in mind for future work.”
A famous proverb says, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. ” A prospect who’s interested in you — or a client you haven’t worked with for a while — is like a bird in your hand. You’re much more likely to get freelance work from an interested prospect or an inactive client than from a brand new prospect. (While this article focuses on prospects, the suggestions also work for inactive clients.)
Be the First in Line
Professional, relevant follow up can move you to the head of the line so that when the prospect or inactive client does need a freelancer, you’ll be the first person he/she thinks of.
Follow up is about being helpful and persistent.
It’s not about “selling yourself.” In fact, most of the time, you shouldn’t even mention your freelance services.
Follow Up Pays Off
I’ve gotten many high-paying clients by following up. Let me tell a few of my stories.
In 2013, one of my clients moved to another organization. Since then, I’ve been sending her my email newsletter and holiday cards. Occasionally, I’ve commented on something she posted on LinkedIn. Last year, she hired me for a freelance job that was so big, I had to bring in two other freelancers to work with me.
Now four years is a long time to follow up with a prospect.
But often it does takes a year or two of following up to get a client.
Another client, who I’ve been working with since 1998, hired me nearly two years after I first started marketing to him.
When you do it right, prospects appreciate the follow up, because they need great freelancers — even if they don’t need you right now. One of my prospects recently thanked me for following up with him, because he had “a million things going on” and keeping in touch helped him remember that I was available for freelance work.
Professional, Relevant Follow Up
Follow up isn’t hard. And once you get organized, it only takes a few minutes every now and then.
The Best Type of Follow Up
Most of your follow-up should give prospects and inactive clients useful information and resources. And most should be customized to the prospect and your contact person.
Want an easy way to do this? Comment on news about the prospect or the organization.
For example, when one of my prospects hired a new CEO, I sent her a LinkedIn message saying that I hoped this was good news for her, along with a link to the story. I found out about this because I subscribe to the prospect’s eNewsletter. Reading the story and sending the message took me about 2 minutes.
Find news to comment on through:
- The company’s Newsroom page
- Google Alerts
- LinkedIn updates or tweets.
Sharing relevant resources like reports, blog posts, and podcasts is a great value-added way to follow up. Sign up for eNewsletters in your industry so great resources come right to your inbox.
Generic Follow Up
Developing your own eNewsletter is a great way to follow up with prospects and inactive clients (along with current clients and colleagues). It’s not customized to each prospect, but like customized follow up, most of the content should be useful information and resources.
An eNewsletter is a great way to highlight your expertise. For example, I love doing content marketing for hospitals and other healthcare clients. The feature story in my most recent issue of Writing Right focused on how these clients can attract more patients using digital channels.
Generic follow up also includes holiday cards. These should be print cards that arrive in the mail shortly after Thanksgiving — before cards start getting lost in the holiday rush.
Direct Email Follow Up
Once or twice a year, it’s fine to send interested prospects and inactive clients a gentle reminder that you’re available for freelance work. Send a professional, low-key email that’s part of your overall follow up with the prospect. This should never be the only time you contact him/her.
Consistent follow-up requires three things:
- Developing a list
- Scheduling the time
- Developing your library of resources.
Develop a written list of prospects to follow up with and a schedule for keeping in touch with them.
Put time for follow-up on your calendar — and treat it like a deadline for a client. Make sure you get it done. Set aside a little time every week to check news about your prospects.
Here’s what I recommend for your follow-up schedule:
- Interested prospects: about every 2 months
- Other prospects: 1–2 weeks after your initial marketing contact and then about every 3–4 months
To develop your library of resources to send prospects:
- Sign up for eNewsletters that are relevant to your prospects
- Look for relevant LinkedIn updates and tweets (I get lots of great resources to send my prospects through social media)
- Checking out resources from your professional associations.
Keep a folder with these resources (or links).
If something is very timely, like my prospect’s new CEO, send it along right away. Otherwise, tuck it away for your scheduled follow up.
Commit to Following Up
“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs,” says Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This works for me in getting great freelance clients — and it can work for you too.
Have you gotten clients by following up?
Email me to tell me what you did: firstname.lastname@example.org