A lot of freelancing today is done remotely or at least mostly online, yet if you’re starting out as a freelancer in any field you may be finding it difficult to kick-start a customer base solely by having an online presence. Of course LinkedIn and similar sites can help you connect with clients and partners, but don’t rely solely on digital communication. A sometimes overlooked way that you can build a reputation and portfolio to attract potential clients to your work is to reach out to other businesses and freelancers.
By creating partnerships with businesses and fellow freelancers, you create a supportive network that will strengthen your work and what you can offer your clients. How, you ask? Clients often ask things of freelancers that they would expect from a well-equipped multi-employee firm. Sometimes a writing freelancer simply doesn’t have the skill to design a graphic, for example. If they refer that client to a fellow freelancer who does have the skill required, not only are they doing that second freelancer a favor that can later be returned to them, they’re building credibility in the eyes of the client that they know their way around the industry and have helpful connections.
A fun way freelancers can get their name out via local businesses is to walk into a storefront they like and set up a collaboration. First of all, whether you’re just dropping off business cards or meeting up with the head of the business, make a clean and appropriate impression. People decide whether you’re trustworthy in about a tenth of a second, so getting your foot in the door is all about first impressions. Have a plan ready to propose, don’t just waltz in with whatever street clothes you threw on that day and say ‘hey, let’s work together sometime!’
Following that ‘first impression’ advice further, be choosy about what businesses you partner with. Check out social media and recent news about them to make sure you understand the basics of their business and how they can harmoniously work with you. A simple test is to walk past their storefront and think carefully about your first impression. A survey of consumers reported that 70% of respondents think the quality of a business’s sign reflects on the quality of the business itself, so if you think the business looks lackluster, then your work might look lackluster next to it.
If you’re aspiring to partner with some larger companies, you’re not out of luck. Because freelancers are becoming more common and respected as independent agents in the current business world, many companies are actually shifting to specifically be more freelance-friendly. To look for potential clients and businesses that are freelance-friendly, you can simply Google how some businesses are certifying and labeling themselves. The Virginia firm MBO Partners is conducting research and offering training to firms to become what they call a “Client of Choice” for freelancers. Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, perhaps best sums up the current climate for aspiring freelancers:
“Quite honestly, talented people have a lot of choice.”