Finding new business is probably the most daunting aspect of being self-employed. But it doesn't have to be that way. Rachel Miller has nine simple suggestions that will help you get more work as a freelancer
If you work for yourself - whether as a freelancer, a contractor, a consultant or one of the millions of one-man bands in the UK - you'll know that getting a steady flow of work can be challenging. Often it's a case of feast or famine; and when the work dries up, it can be hard to know what to do next.
Building a regular stream of quality work is the best way to improve your cash flow and reduce stress. Ideally, you want to have a good choice of jobs so that you can focus on the most interesting and profitable projects and avoid any awkward customers.
As a freelancer, though, chances are you're short of time and resources. So here are nine simple ideas to help you to get more work.
1. Draw up a prospect list
Getting more work is about targeting those people that are most likely to become new customers. Drawing up a prospect list is the best way to identify the people you could approach. Include:
- anyone that has ever enquired about your products or services;
- old or lapsed customers;
- people you have met at networking events;
- anyone that has signed up for your email newsletter;
- your followers on social media.
Don't forget existing customers; they may be in the market for additional services, or they may well pass on your details to others.
2. Make an offer they can't refuse
A free consultation or a free trial, an ebook or a discount - all these things can tempt prospects to become customers. Once they are on board you can work on building your relationship, getting more work and using their testimonials to bring in more business.
3. Show people what you do
Images and videos are marketing gold dust. Start taking good-quality images - of your work, yourself at work, your products, jobs you have completed, places you have visited, tools you have used, happy customers - anything that is likely to inspire potential clients. Create short videos that show you in action.
Now start posting and promoting this visual collateral - on your website and on social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. It works - landscape gardener Jane Shankster got lots of new enquiries when she started posting images of her garden designs on the website Houzz.
4. Embrace feedback
Customer feedback has become a crucial part of the buying process. More and more freelancers and small firms are now reviewed and rated online - either on their own websites, on marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, or on sites such as Rated People and TripAdvisor. Ignoring feedback is not an option. Instead, respond to customer comments, thanking people for their positive words and responding to any criticism. Ask customers for feedback and post testimonials on your website.
5. Encourage word of mouth
Ask any freelancer where they get most of their work, and they'll say referrals. Satisfied customers are often delighted to be able to recommend people who have provided a great service or product, but they may not do it until you prompt them. If you don't tell them you are in the market for new clients, they may just assume you are too busy.
This is all about developing good customer relationship habits - connect with your customers on social media; add them to your email mailing list; gather references and testimonials. And, when the time is right (when you've done a great job for them), ask them if they have any contacts that might need your services.
6. Join forces with others
How many times has a customer asked you to recommend someone that provides a related service to yours? Builders recommend gardeners; wedding dress shops recommend florists; website designers recommend SEO specialists. Referrals between professionals are powerful, and pairing up with other freelancers - especially those that offer complementary services to yours - can be a great way to widen your exposure. Connect with good people, recommend them and they will do the same for you.
7. Pick up the phone
Sometimes the best way to reach out to new clients is simply to pick up the phone and talk to them. Don't think about it as cold calling - a friendly call introducing yourself and offering your services often gets a more positive response than an easily-ignored letter or email.
Your objective should not be to sell on the phone - instead focus on arranging the next step, a meeting or another call once you have sent the prospect a proposal.
8. Get out more
Networking can be daunting, but it works. You won't make a sale on your first outing, but every new contact opens up new opportunities - if the person you meet isn't a potential customer, they will undoubtedly know someone who is. Join your local chamber of commerce or industry body, go to breakfast clubs and attend trade events. Even better - offer your services as a speaker.
Before you go to any event, make sure you have some business cards and a compelling elevator pitch at the ready, and ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date.
9. Check out freelancer jobs boards
There are loads of good freelance jobs sites where you can browse through jobs and also post your own details. Some of the best freelance marketplaces include OnSite, People Per Hour, Freelancer, Upwork, Elevate, Field Engineer and YunoJuno. And don't forget public sector jobs; the Government has committed to spend 33% of its procurement budget with SMEs by 2020. You can find details of all UK public sector tenders on the Contracts Finder website.