The core freedom of freelancing can conjure up thoughts of being a ruthless mercenary, forcing fierce competition among those who want to hire you. You might even imagine treating them with sheer apathy: they don’t pay you full-time, after all, so you don’t need to play along with niceties beyond the minimum. Well, this is a wrong-headed view of how freelancing works — and a recipe for utter disaster.
Coldness might be acceptable if you had unlimited prospects and if every client existed in a vacuum and could never hear about or learn from any other. Each company could be a one-off connection. Your attitude wouldn’t be ideal, but it wouldn’t sabotage you. But you don’t have unlimited prospects, and you will build up a cross-company reputation that shapes your fate.
It isn’t merely someone’s on-paper set of skills that makes them a desirable option for some outsourced creative work. It’s also how well they connect with leads and clients. Connection demonstrates understanding of fundamental needs and desires. It also shows commitment. When you hire someone you don’t know, particularly for a big project, you need to be highly confident that they aren’t going to waste your time through incompetence or indifference.
If you want to thrive as a creative freelancer, then, you need to know how to master the art of connection. Being able to engage productively with prospects and clients will make every part of your job markedly easier, and enhance your career immensely in the long haul. To that end, this piece will cover some tips for building stronger connections. Let’s get to them.
Take every opportunity to network
It’s possible to get your foot in a door by pushing against it as hard as you can until it creeps just far enough open. That’s the brute force method. Inundating prospects with calls and messages, glossing over rejections, and ultimately making yourself impossible to ignore. There are two big problems with that approach, though. Firstly, it’s exhausting. It could take months to get noticed. Secondly, it’s more likely to backfire by irritating and alienating those you want to impress.
Alternatively, of course, you can get your foot in a door much more easily if someone opens it for you. You’ve heard the adage that it’s who you know and not what you know that matters, no doubt. There’s a lot of truth to that. This is why networking is the best way for a creative freelancer to connect with relevant people. If you build engagement in non-work settings, it’ll prove invaluable down the line when your name just happens to spring to mind.
As for how you can network these days, well… Online communities will help. There are many creative forums and conversations that are active every day, and you can find them through social media sites as well as simple Google searches. Digital content is huge these days, and creatives are always needed. Make yourself a name in the right communities, forge friendships with influential people, and it’ll work to your advantage.
Invest in suitable communication tools
When you’ve secured a client for a creative project, your focus needs to be on communication. The main part of your job — doing the work — will presumably be second-nature to you, but avoiding miscommunication and staying on the same page as your employer is another issue entirely. Just one slip-up or awkward conversation can lead to huge problems.
Furthermore, even if you’re the kind of freelancer who prefers in-person meetings, we’re firmly in the remote-working era now. There’s a strong chance that you’ll have clients whom you can’t meet in person, making it necessary to deal exclusively with online communication. Now, while you can’t outright control what channels get used, you can — and should — make an effort to set the terms as early as you can.
This is because common chat tools like Zoom or Google Meet, while inarguably useful at times, leave much to be desired. Creative work requires creative engagement to flourish, and having an entirely company glare at you isn’t going to spark your creative juices. Take a look at the more interesting options that have hit the market recently. Spatial video chat (check out Topia.io) is a good example: audio/video connections are established between users based on their closeness within a digital landscape.
It might sound a little odd, but it does a great job of replicating the nature of ad-hoc discussions in the real world. You walk over to someone, talk to them, then walk to someone else and have a separate conversation. If you can get your clients to take the leap of faith required to try something different, you might just find that they enjoy it.
You should apply the same thinking to the process of gathering feedback. Reaching out and asking clients for comments won’t always bear fruit — but what about asking for basic emoji-based feedback? The rise of the feedback emoji has been controversial, but it’s certainly better to get some emojis than no ratings at all. A system that is fast enough for even the busiest manager can help you form a better picture of how your work is being received.
Remain professional outside of projects
A mistake that some freelancers make is letting their communication standards slip between projects. If there’s any chance that you’ll work with a client again, you need to make a priority of remaining completely professional at all times. So what counts as professional here? Well, you shouldn’t act as though you don’t have the time for someone when you’re not working for them.
And if you’re unsure if a potential project might impact a former client, you should let them know as a courtesy. Imagine being courted by a former client’s top rival with their intent being to use your knowledge of their systems against them, for instance. It wouldn’t take much effort to reach out and inform them. You can’t keep everyone happy, but you can stand up for the employers who treat you well, showing that trust in you is always rewarded.
You should also keep in touch with the contacts you’ve made, showing that you’re a friendly person in general. Ask them how things are going, and let them know what you’ve been working on. It’s self-serving, of course, as it’s a way of keeping your foot in the door — but it will benefit your former clients because they may need more work at any time and might well appreciate not having to approach you to gauge your availability.
Connecting with clients and leads as a creative freelancer is all about communication. You should make every effort to cultivate connections within your industry, choose smart communication tools for your project work, and periodically revisit established working relationships so you remain ever-present as a viable option.