Should I go freelance?

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Easy business development for freelancers.

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Optimal client management for freelancers.

Do you feel like freelancing would be great if it weren’t for the endless demands of your clients? I wrote this course for you.

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How to manage client relationships (productively)

I recently met a couple of freelancers at an event at my co-working space. Both of them are among the fortunate – solopreneurs in interesting fields who make a good living. Instead of seeming happy and satisfied, however, they were stressed.

Both were working far more hours than they wanted to and doing a lot of work they didn’t want to do. What’s more, all or most of their work was being done for one client.

Many freelancers think it’s the ultimate champagne problem to have too much work. But solopreneurs who are overworked and overburdened have often let a client take control of the relationship. To enjoy freelancing, you must be pro-actively managing your client relationships.

Most experienced freelancers know that they should have multiple clients as opposed to having one primary relationship, but often this is not the reality. Many freelancers do way too much work for one or two clients.

While you’re developing a new client relationship, you’re excited when they come back with new work. It starts out as mutually beneficial. Over time, the relationship grows to a point where you are the default vendor. Often, you become entrenched in the company, which can feel good at first. Solopreneurship can be lonely. It’s nice to develop those work relationships, not to mention feeling the security of regular paycheques.

Unfortunately, leaning into this scenario too much becomes problematic. Once you become the go-to, your client will know that they are providing the bulk of your income. This gives them power and leverage. Often, they’ll start crossing boundaries. Asking you to extend a contract to include extra work (without charging). Expecting you to do work you don’t want to do because they’re slammed and they need this favor.

At a certain point you realize that you have become a de-facto employee, expected to do whatever is asked of you. However, you are an employee with no job security, no package if you are laid off and of course no benefits or paid vacation to enjoy.

At this point, you have no other significant client relationships to fall back on, which puts you in a vulnerable position that makes it even harder to set any limits.

“My client always gives me the Joe Jobs no one else wants to do,” opined one of my new contacts. “I became a freelancer because I wanted the freedom to do my own work as well as get paid to work for others. But I never work on my own stuff. Instead, I’m like their parent, overseeing all their work and doing the tougher stuff so they never have to learn.”

Why do freelancers who know better get caught in this trap? It typically happens slowly, and they may not even realize it until it’s too late. Then there is the fact that networking and prospecting can be difficult, so sometimes it’s easier to keep putting it off and focusing on the work that’s already on your plate – until you reach the point where you have no capacity for other work anymore.

You can call this path of least resistance career planning. It makes the day-to-day easier, but it rarely leads a solopreneur to the path s/he envisioned taking in the first place.

The key to avoiding this trap is to recognize it early. If you find yourself getting over-extended with one client, it’s important to set productive boundaries and ensure that you continue working with other clients as well.

Some freelancers are worried if they do this that their client will go elsewhere, but I have not found this to be the case. A solopreneur must have sufficient confidence in themselves to know that asserting themselves in a professional way will not be the end of a relationship. If it does in fact turn out that way, I can pretty much guarantee that that relationship wasn’t going anywhere good anyway and in the long-term, you will be better finding other clients.

Yes, it can be tempting to stick with a path that is easy and familiar. But the freelancer who gets complacent will often wind up regretting it, stuck in a trap of their own making.

Want more tips on how to grow a freelance business? Check out my 3 easy and effective sales strategies here.

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

How to get more business from friends

I recently went out with a friend in another industry who regularly hires consultants as part of her work. She told me that she no longer sees a mutual friend of ours who is also a consultant. Why? Because each time they spent time together, he would “pitch” her.

This was surprising to me for a number of reasons. The person she is referring to, we’ll call him John, is genuinely fond of her, so I’m not sure why he would spent their “friend time” pitching her. But more than that, she is well-aware that he is intelligent and capable. So, why pitch?

When I first went freelance, I invited a friend of mine who is a talented salesperson out to lunch and picked her brain. What did I need to know about sales?

For the sake of this story, we’ll call my salesperson friend Carole. Carole told me that sales was as simple as caring about the people that you are selling to. As human beings, not as a target to be pitched to. In addition, she said, get to know their work, and show that you are genuinely invested in helping them succeed.

I thanked her, but secretly thought that this must be overly simplified. Yes, I’ve heard that old trope that “people do business with people that they know, like and trust”, but come on, it can’t be that easy.

And then I thought about Carole herself. She is not just a friend, she is a potential vendor for me. One who gets a disproportionate share of my business. Is that because her company is better than the competition? Well, they’re good, but so are their competitors. No, it’s not because of the company. It’s because of Carole.

Any time we speak, Carole never fails to make me feel important, but in a genuine way. First of all, she’s early for every lunch. Then we discuss real things that are happening in our lives, and she listens and responds with true interest. When I’ve been hesitant about a big career move or a major project, she is there to boost up my confidence.

When a family member of mind passed away, Carole sent flowers and checked up on me to see how I was doing.

With all the things that we discuss, guess what we don’t talk about? Her company, what they can do for me, and why I should choose them over the competition.

We’ve literally never discussed that.

When Carole switched companies, she took my business with her.

Why is that? Because I trust her. I know she’d only go to work for a great quality company. I know she lifts up her team so her staff feels empowered and therefore works harder. I know if there’s a problem, she has my back.

Earlier I called this strategy simple. But I think I mislabelled it. Genuine, authentic connection is not simple. It takes you being real and supportive. It takes treating people with respect. It takes actually listening and relating and identifying. It takes an understanding that one must give before they receive.

The Caroles of this world will never run out of friends, or sales. I’m not naïve, but I never feel like my friendship with Carole is all about the commission to her.

So, if you want more business as a freelancer, stop being like John and start being more like Carole. Start thinking of what you can give before you consider what you can get.

Like this post? Click here for my top 3 easy and effective strategies for business development as a freelancer.

Need more business? Stop wanting it so much.

I recently attended an industry event and saw a man ask a freelancer how her business was going. She responded with “Okay, but it could be better…” in a tone that suggested that “okay” meant “pretty bleak”.

Following that response, the man beat a very hasty retreat, citing business he had to attend to. He practically ran away, and her bewildered expression was hard to witness.

Maybe he actually had pressing business, but it was also clear that her answer made him uncomfortable, and it doesn’t seem like too far a stretch that he suddenly got antsy because he was wary of being hit up for work.

I can relate to how that woman was feeling. In the first few years of going freelance, I went through some very bleak career valleys. I was still insecure in my freelance role, and a week or two without a call would make me spin mentally. I’d wake up panicked in the middle of the night, despite having a decent nest-egg to tide me over. It’s the psychology of not being busy that can be terrifying. You get caught up in thinking: ‘what if I’m never busy again’?

This is an understandable feeling, but it’s also the exact opposite of what you want to be expressing to your clients and prospects. Think about it – who wants to work with the freelancer who’s not in demand? To those who have never worked freelance and don’t understand that dry spells happen to the best of us, too much availability calls your capabilities into question.

About year three of my freelance career, I moved into the phase where I regularly had too much existing work to take on new projects. Remembering how hard it was when I had nothing going on, I was loathe to say “no” to any work coming my way, even if it was too much to handle.

A wise associate of mine told me “saying ‘no’ will only make people want to work with you more.” I laughed, because it sounded like bad dating advice. Playing hard to get, but in the professional capacity.

However, I’ve come to learn that it’s true. I started having to reluctantly turn down work because I had no more capacity. This did not lead clients to find other, more available freelancers. Instead, they delayed projects until I could accommodate them, or they called me in advance to ensure they could book my time for a future project.

I also found it worked with prospects, who seemed to get more interested in working with me when I expressed doubt that I could accommodate their project due to workload. I’ve even had a few prospects start pitching ME to do THEIR work.

Yes, I am good at what I do. However, there are a lot of other market research consultants who also produce quality work. I’m not naïve enough to think I can’t be replaced. So, why was I suddenly so in demand?

The answer seems to be that a busy consultant is more appealing, because they clearly have the approval of other clients. From a romantic perspective, I have heard a number of men say that women seem to find them more attractive when they’re in a relationship. So too, clients seem to find a busy consultant more interesting than one that is… a little TOO available.

So what should you take away from this? As a freelancer, remember that busy is more appealing than open. There is no need to lie, but “I just finished a great project using x new technology” is a better answer to ‘how is your business going’ than “okay….”, even if that other project finished a few months prior.

It also doesn’t hurt if you take a little time to check your schedule before committing to a new project, thus suggesting that you may not be able to accommodate the work. Many will appreciate your services more if there’s a possibility that they can’t engage them.

My last piece of advice is probably the best I’m giving out here today, which is to always try to have multiple clients as opposed to being overexposed to two or three. That way you have work coming in more regularly, and you can honestly say “It’s going great – busy as always”. People can feel the energy of desperation – and it makes them want to run a mile away.

Want to learn more? Check out my guide to Easy and Effective Sales Strategies for Freelancers here.

Is your schedule at the mercy of others?

I have an industry friend who is forever running off to client or prospect meetings at times that are terribly inconvenient for her. One time she ran an event until 11:00pm and then had to leave at 6:00am for a client breakfast. Another time, she was cutting a vacation short to fly out the next morning for an out-of-town meeting.

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Why I would hire my worst vendor again

I recently had one of the worst and best vendor experiences of my career. Let me explain.

I hired a company to help me complete an important project task. My contact was friendly and engaged, but a number of things went wrong throughout the course of the project.

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The best way to strengthen client relationships (and grill steak)

Many people dismiss New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve had great success with them. The trick is to focus not on things you feel you “should” do, but on areas where you genuinely want to attract more into your life. One of my resolutions for this year is what I simply call: “Let. It. Marinate.”

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The skill that separates a supplier from a knowledge provider

Those of us in professional services require a briefing before we can do our work. But this is often a challenge, as many clients struggle to clearly articulate their needs. I used to walk away from a bad briefing session internally shaking my head and thinking “I guess I’ll just figure this out as I go.”

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Luck has nothing to do with success.

Hey there! I’m Ellen and I teach freelancers in professional services how to grow their practice. Don’t wait for the phone to ring or work for the wrong clients, take success into your own hands. My courses will teach you how to go from surviving to thriving.

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