What else do you have to do?
Let’s face it, the holidays are here (ugh) and business is going to get slow until the beginning of the new year. The days are short and may be dreary; the winter looms. This is the time to reboot your freelance practice and learn to enjoy it more because when you enjoy it, clients can sense it and you’ll do better.
Think about that for a second. These are not easy times for anyone. You know you work better when you work with friendly, forward-looking people. Chances are your clients work with multiple creatives. It’s just good business to diversify. But I don’t know about you, but I want to be their default choice. So, now is the time to do the work to make that happen.
One: position yourself
I’ve written about this at length, so I’ll just add a link but let me explain why this is a great exercise to do right now. A positioning statement is as much for you as it is for prospective clients. It forces you to define your core strength and exactly how it helps.
Be specific and focus on skill rather than content. Skill is ultimately what you are hired for. One of those skills is adaptability, which is critical to getting a steady stream of work from each client. More about that coming up.
Expertise. Demonstrate it, but in a more focused way. The temptation, especially when starting out, is to be the go-to for everything. That is not what people want, a jack of all trades who is master of none. That’s a maintenance guy. Don’t be that person.
A great portfolio shows range and expertise. So pick your best subject and show how you build a story around it, linking each example together. I might group a set of work done for a client and walk the viewer through my approach. As a writer that might mean showing something significant like a website or white paper then showing how you link it to related projects like blog posts, landing page copy, a video script, a sales email.
This does two important things. It shows more strategic flexibility and range and it shows depth of knowledge on a subject. This automatically makes you an expert in their eyes and their subject matter. Finally, once you’ve built this specialization put it out there to businesses in a similar sector. People do not want to train you on their topic if they can avoid it.
Three: Diversify (?)
Wait, didn’t you just say to specialize? I did, but you can have more than one specialization, in fact you should. Most of us have deeper knowledge in a few topics, possibly because of a past job, a hobby, or even a family business. If you are really just an expert in one subject, it better be something you love passionately. If not, your work will get stale and so will you.
Tip: Consider diversifying by geolocation. My practice now includes multiple European companies marketing their products in the US. This used to be a challenge with billing and money transfers a big hassle but now with various invoicing and billing services it is simple. Not different than working with the company down the street.
Four: Reward Yourself When You Deliver
We like prizes. We like checking things off lists, especially hard things. When I deliver a project I seldom plunge right into another one because I need to shake off that deep dive to freshen up. Take a walk. Read something interesting or motivational. Eat pizza. Whatever flips your switch and diverts you.
Five: Act Like a Pro
Pros don’t complain. Pros don’t work with people they don’t trust. Pros overdeliver and always fix things a client requests, fast. Pros never work for free, ever. Pros have testimonials and get referrals and they work to earn these things. Pros don’t procrastinate. And pros obviously love and take pride in their work.
If you don’t you’re in the wrong game.
Six: Don’t start your day with a news dump
This is a problem for me and many others, especially in an insane news year like 2020. I can sit down with a coffee and my iPad and before I know it I have killed the first three hours of the day, three of my most productive hours. And I’ve lost my focus.
Need to get going? Read something about your expertise or subject matter. Throw your coat on and take a quick walk. Your mind will automatically start thinking about what you’re going to work on. You’ll hear it a thousand times but this is a great way to get moving, literally. Leave the phone home, please. This is not its place.
Seven: Send an email to someone you don’t know
A lot of people have a hard time with this, so you need a routine and a process. The only sales effort I make is to send an article I wrote about marketing to someone I think will find it interesting. Just a ‘hi, I thought you’d find this interesting’ and my signature, that by the way, contains my positioning statement and a link to my site.
Do it once a week. Tuesday is best for a number of reasons. Don’t ask for anything and don’t expect anything. It’s just a seed. Some will take root.
Eight: When you are not busy, keep working
I’m ok with having a slow week, in fact they typically seem to come when I’ve just finished a big project. But I keep writing. I write for Medium and occasionally for LinkedIn. It lets me explore subjects and see what kinds of things resonate with a bigger group of readers. And it keeps me sharp.
If I see a subject that is getting traction, I may try to learn if there is a way I can generate work in that area. But I don’t use this as a marketing tool. Interestingly enough, the offbeat stuff I write often does bring me revenue.
Nine: read, watch, listen
Expertise and skills are not static. If left unused they get stale. We need to constantly polish our skills and knowledge. I always set some attention time each day aside for keeping up with relevant news and insights into my areas of expertise. Because I am a writer, this can mean simply reading great writing. For example, I’m reading a recent translation of Tolstoy’s monumental War and Peace. It is simply mind blowing what he is doing on the page.
BTW, if you don’t see how reading great literature helps with business writing, you might want to rethink. Bad business writing sounds like…business writing. Filled with cliches and a voice that tries to be businesslike. Great business writing is compelling, highly readable, interesting, and structured as a story. Kind of like great literature.
Ten: when you are stuck, meditate or work out
Both meditation and workouts help you stop your mind by focusing all your attention on the practice. That stop opens up space that was likely clogged with minutiae. The Buddhist metaphor is that above the grey clouds there is always endless blue sky. Driving yourself via meditation or pushing yourself physically helps you access that openness and color.
Bonus eleven: give out a freebie
Sometimes I intentionally help a client out with a request, and decline payment. This has always paid off in more loyalty and future work. This is not working for free by the way and I don’t do it for people who have not paid my invoices multiple times (BTW, always invoice immediately and set your terms at ‘due on receipt’. A lot of accounting types automatically pay when they see that to avoid penalties- it’s a habit. That’s number twelve. You’re welcome!)