As the freelance industry grows, so does the competition.
A strong freelance network is essential to succeed in any competitive market. The unique characteristics of your business make a few people essential to your network:
- Other successful freelancers
- Online Marketers
- Target Clients
Essential Person #1: A Successful Freelancer
Learn from the Best
Many skill-based professions are learned by hands on practice through apprenticeships. From doctors to electricians, practitioners pass knowledge to the next generation through on the job training.
Unfortunately, there is no apprenticeship for freelancing. Freelancers work when they want, where they want, and for whoever they want. Freedom is part of the appeal.
You must seek out successful freelancers if you want to grow your freelance network. Create your own version of an apprenticeship program with successful freelancers in your network.
Don’t know any successful freelancers? Ryan Robinson wrote this article on Forbes interviewing 5 successful six-figure freelancers who share their insights on how they got there.
Dissect their work. Note how they progressed with time.
If you do know a successful freelancer local to you, offer to buy the them a cup of coffee or lunch, and discuss what you noticed in your review.
Here’s a few questions you might use to kickstart the conversation:
- How did they get started?
- Why did their style progress?
- What worked in attracting new clients?
- How do they retain existing clients?
- How did they scale to a full time business? What about working environment?
- How do they stay on track?
- How did they build their network?
You can also search online for freelance networking meetups and conferences, do a search on Upwork, or find other freelancers on Linkedin.
Learn from Freelance Failures
When J.K. Rowling was struggling to find a publisher for Harry Potter, she was a freelancer by default. She endured multiple failures as publisher after publisher rejected her book.
Rowling now speaks positively regarding failure. She says:
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success.”
– J.K. Rowling
If you already have successful freelancer in your network, rest assured they’ve faced a fair share of failures.
Asking someone how they became successful is a great place to start. But, as Rowling suggests, you might be better off asking about mistakes and failures.
Dig into failures. What did they learn? What could have been done to prevent the failure? How was repeating the failure avoided? How has failure made the freelancer better?
In a recent article, we looked at 5 Common Mistakes Freelancers Make (and How to Avoid Them). In the article I discussed a few mistakes that I made along the way, and a some of the pitfalls that came with those mistakes.
Essential Person #2: An Attorney
Despite the stereotypes, your freelancing career could benefit from having an attorney in your network.
As you launch a freelance business, an attorney can help guide you through basic legal considerations that need to be addressed. Three topics to start the conversation:
- Personal Liability
- Tax Exposure
While business organizations and contracts may be confusing to many freelancers, these are standard conversations for an attorney. Take advantage of any free legal guidance available through your network.
Freelance Legal Specifics
Freelance businesses present unique legal challenges.
Many freelancers never intend to scale their business beyond their personal capacity. As a single person operation you may not have the leverage to negotiate terms with larger companies.
Even when you can’t dictate terms, you should still be strategic when it comes to legally protecting your business. An attorney can help you strategize when contracts are weighed against you.
Your freelance services likely include unique characteristics that could benefit from tailored legal consideration.
If your services create a product that your client will sell (e.g. software development, journalism, photography, etc.), you may need an extra layer of business protection in case your client’s customers sue your client for the product you delivered. Such business protections include:
- Contractual indemnification language
- Research into your client’s industry and customer base
Essential Person #2: An Accountant
Just as an attorney can guide you on legal basics, an accountant in your network can help you get acquainted with accounting basics.
A wealth of online information like Accounting 101 for Small Businesses provides an introduction to accounting. But, putting knowledge into practice is not always straightforward. Guidance from an accountant can make this transition from theory to practice easier.
Freelance Accounting Specifics
A conversation with an accountant in your network can go beyond the 101 course and address accounting topics specific to your freelance business.
General accounting is good knowledge to have, but there are also some accounting basics specific to freelancers.
Accountants can become strategic advisors for your freelance business. While you’re an expert in the service you provide, you likely don’t specialize in areas where accountants thrive:
- Tax strategy
- Audit preparation and avoidance
- Financial planning
- Balance sheet reconciliation
Your first thought when you hear “talk to professional” is likely to be, “I don’t have the money”. But you may be surprised to find that many accountants and lawyers are willing to have these preliminary conversations for a nominal fee or even free.
Just like you, many of them are freelancers, and they also value developing their network.
As Katie Bunschoten, founder of KHBOffice, told QuickBooks:
“Most accountants and bookkeepers are happy to answer a few questions, and they enjoy being able to see a business grow and for clients to be successful. After all, the basement startup today could be their biggest client tomorrow.”
Essential Person #4: An Online Marketer
The booming freelance economy is driven by the many marketplaces. You’ll likely find your clients online, communicate with your clients online, and get paid by your clients online.
You need the ability to market your freelance business online.
Google, Facebook, and the other giants frequently tweak the algorithms used to find content and people. Savvy online marketers keep up with the latest changes and develop marketing tactics to successfully navigate the algorithms.
Online marketers primary goal is to ensure their clients’ content is easy to find.
If you want to be discovered by clients outside of your immediate network, you need to stand out online. If you can tap the expertise of an online marketer in your network, you can focus on building your freelance portfolio, rather than burning hours marketing.
There’s an added bonus to including online marketers in your network. The nature of an online marketer’s business requires a strong and continuously growing network.
A strong relationship with an online marketer may grant you access to their ever growing network.
Essential Person #5: A Target Client
Your freelance services, whether you’re a lawyer, writer, accountant, or designer are targeted at someone. That person or business should be in your network.
As a freelancer, you are your brand. Your reputation within your target market is key to a steady stream of business. Relationships with people in your target market is the best way build your reputation.
If you can build trust with potential clients before any attempt to sell your freelance services, you have an edge over competitors. When a need for your services arises within your network, you are available to fill the need. There is no need for a target client to shop around if you are already a trusted partner in that client’s network.
Referral Business is the Best Business
Despite the many marketplaces connecting freelancers to clients, referrals will always be the best path to new clients.
Clients shopping in freelancer marketplaces are naturally skeptical of unknown freelancers who pitch high quality work for low rates. Referrals eliminate this skepticism, as referrals typically come from trusted contacts.
When you enter into a new client relationship with a level of trust, you start the relationship with some advantages.
First, you don’t have to discount your services to compete with freelancer marketplace rates on referral business.
Second, referrals come with some built-in benefits of the doubt. Mistakes and miscommunications are inevitable. The trust of a referral will aid to your benefit when such issues arise.
If you skip the first four essential people in this article, do what it takes to find people in your target industry and get them in your network. The best freelancer network is a network full of clients and potential clients.