December 21, 2011
The key to succeeding as a freelancer
I'll be on KUOW's Weekday this morning, talking about what it takes to make it as a freelancer these days. Talent, marketing savvy, and business know-how are all part of the equation. But I'm a firm believer that the secret ingredient is your digital Rolodex.
Who do you think is going to have a fuller dance card? The freelancer who's well acquainted with at least 30 to 50 professionals in her industry -- both freelance and employee -- or the freelancer who can't even name 10 people she knows well enough to contact for self-employment advice, leads, or shop talk?
Hopefully you said the freelancer with the fatter digital Rolodex. Here's why:
- The more people you let know you're on the market for your particular breed of freelance work, the more referrals and leads you'll land. Many freelancers get a significant chunk of their business this way.
- The larger your freelance network, the more likely it is you'll be able to refer a project you can't take to another freelancer (either because you're already booked or it's outside your expertise). Besides making your prospects' lives easier, this can prompt other freelancers to toss you a lead in the future.
- The larger your freelance community, the more help you'll have sorting out the tougher questions of self-employment as they arise.
I'm not talking about people you talked to for 30 seconds at some industry event a decade ago before swapping cards and moving along. I'm talking about people you've had an actual conversation with during the past three months, be it face to face or on Facebook -- in other words, people who will instantly recognize your name when it appears in their inbox.
Building up a roster of these acquaintances may sound like a daunting task, but as a relatively introverted person, I assure you it's not. Technology is on your side, allowing you to easily find and gab online with countless freelance and industry counterparts.
Face-to-face industry parties, conferences, and other events are easy enough to hack, too, especially if you banish words like "networking," "schmoozing," and "contacts" from your vocabulary. Approaching industry events like you would your best friend's wedding can help ease the pressure. ("So how do you know the bride?" becomes "So what's your connection to this group? Are you a freelance photographer, too?")
Likewise, teaming up with a friend makes walking into a room of strangers infinitely easier. (I'm partial to the approach where you take turns starting a conversation with a person who looks like they could use someone to talk to. So much easier to get up your nerve with a friend at your side.)
For many writers, designers, and other creative types the fear of talking to people we've never met or hardly know runs deep. But doing so can make the difference between having a full schedule and wondering where your next project is coming from. The trick is to find the online communities, coworking spaces, face-to-face parties, and other nooks and crannies where your kind of people gather. Once you do, the rest is cake.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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