5 More Tips for a Successful Freelancing Business

In the companion piece to this article, we told you about five important things to help ensure that your freelancing business would be successful.  Here, we share five more tips for getting your freelancing business to new heights.

Look bigger than you are

While it’s true that most clients will consider the quality and professionalism of your work the most important factors in their relationship with you, in many verticals it remains important for freelancers to look bigger than they are – or at least not make it obvious that they’re still in their pajamas at 1 p.m. working on a card table in their basement.

Sharon Dotson, for example, believes a “big” image is crucial to the success of her one-woman enterprise, Bayou City Public Relations, in Houston. “There are a number of people out there – both clients and competitors – who look for vulnerabilities,” says the 58-year-old freelancer. “They think, ‘She must be much cheaper because she’s alone, or she’s a housewife trying to pick up some extra money.’ I need to level the playing field.”      

So, among other things, Dotson has a slick-looking website. She chose to name her outfit something outside her own identity. “I thought that introducing myself as ‘Sharon Dotson, from Sharon Dotson Public Relations,’ would be silly,” she says. And she rents a street address from a private firm for $100 a year on Cherry Park Drive in Houston and gets all her mail for that address at a post-office box -- instead of at her very residential-sounding Starbridge Drive home address in the suburbs.

Emphasize recent accomplishments

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, it’s easy to dwell on some of the biggest professional successes in your past when you’re selling yourself to new clients. That can make a certain amount of sense. But it also can lead to laziness in keeping your portfolio current.

And in doing so, you might be lousing up your prospects with a client who doesn’t care about that great project you completed seven years ago, in the Pleistocene Era. She wants to know: What are your capabilities right now?

Joni Kabana made that mistake. “When I went to meet with an agency recently, I took my whole history in with him, including flyers and tear sheets from six years ago,” says the 49-year-old photographer based in Portland, Oregon. “But the client wanted to see more of what I had done on the commercial side, and that all would be very recent work. It reminded me that you can get too emotionally attached to your best work.”

It’s your most recent accomplishments, as well as your best, that potential clients want to see. That assures them not only that you’re a viable and reliable vendor but also that you’re at the cutting edge of the profession – where they need you to be – and not the trailing edge.

Package yourself as a solutions provider

Once you’ve proven to yourself and others that you’re capable of thriving as a freelancer, consider broadening how you look at yourself and your expertise. As many corporate marketers do with their brands and product lines, position yourself broadly as a solver of problems rather than narrowly, as a provider of services. Don’t underestimate your expertise within your arena – or undervalue its worth to potential clients. Big consulting firms succeed with this principle.

“You should be positioning yourself as a trusted business adviser,” says Josh  Feinberg, owner of Computer Consulting 101 in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Focus on the whole value that you bring to the table rather than just the work itself. That’s how you leverage what you can do into larger and more lucrative relationships with the same client.”

Network everywhere

Kabana gets plenty of shots at selling new clients, she says, in part because she’s a voracious networker. Her willingness to throw her energy into meeting and getting to know all sorts of new people not only helps her overcome the isolation of being a freelancer but also opens up plenty of potential new clients to her.

“Never underestimate the relationship base that you have, partly because many relationships where you don’t even think your craft is an element will end up bringing you work, someday,” Kabana says.

Reach out of your isolation

Just because you work alone as a freelancer doesn’t mean you need to feel alone. If you just need to feel connected to other people professionally, you can network in a variety of ways.

Some freelancers within a given city or community find one another and then get together regularly at a coffee shop or someone’s home, to commiserate with and encourage one another. If you’re going to do that, some freelancers advise, maybe you should only gather with freelancers who are in other verticals so that you avoid the potential for professional jealousies.

Sara Matthews simply focuses on building relationships within her industry: wine. “I’m in touch with 20 different people every day around the world,” says the 46-year-old winery photographer, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. “And there are trade shows and other occasions where I see people and can build these relationships personally. And I have a network of assistants that I work with in the various locales where I travel to shoot.”

Our Bottom Line

If you follow our tips, you’ll gain a leg up on success in your freelancing enterprise. With a solid approach to growing and running the business side, you’ll be better positioned to optimize the skills and experience that enabled you to go into freelancing in the first place.
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