The 2008 recession has changed the employment landscape of the United States–perhaps permanently.
While unemployment is low and the economy is adding new jobs, many of these positions are in non-traditional spaces. For instance, since 2005, the percentage of Americans working as independent contractors or freelancers has risen almost 5%. Estimates indicate that this trend could continue.
Freelancing can be a rewarding career option that offers flexibility and independence. By the same token, however, the work can sometimes be unsteady or unreliable. To make a profitable career as a freelancer, it is necessary to first build a strong freelance network.
If you would like to learn more about how to work for yourself by building a freelance network, keep reading. Here is what you will need to know to get started.
A Brief Overview of Freelancing
Before we talk about specific strategies for growing your freelance network, let’s take a closer look at what freelancing is. This will help you decide if freelancing is the right move for you.
What is Freelancing?
Freelancing is a form of self-employment where a person offers their services to individuals, businesses, and other clients. The main differences between being a freelancer and a small business owner are branding and structure.
A small business owner establishes a name for their business, and may eventually hire other employees to support the business. By contrast, a freelancer works under their own name and generally works alone.
What Kind of Work Do Freelancers Do?
The work done by freelancers is as varied as the people who do it. Freelancers can run marketing campaigns, write content and copy, design web pages, and even keep books. If you have a usable skill that people or businesses would rather pay for than learn to do themselves, you could potentially make a living freelancing.
Is Freelancing Right for Me?
Freelancing comes with many advantages and disadvantages. For instance, one survey shows that self-employed people are happier with their jobs, but more stressed about money. So before you dive into the hard work of building a freelance network, take some time to evaluate whether this is the right move for you.
Advantages of Freelancing
One of the biggest advantages of freelancing is flexibility. When you work for yourself, you can set your own schedule, and work in the environment you like best.
Also, freelancers have the ability to choose the projects that interest them most. Of course, if you are still working to grow your freelance network, you may have to accept some projects you aren’t crazy about. But more on that later.
Finally, freelancers can often make more money. Because you set your own price and are paid directly, you can make more per project than when you work for someone else. Also, since you get paid by the project, rather than on salary, you make more money when you’re more productive.
Disadvantages of Freelancing
Simply put, freelancing is not for everyone. If the potential drawbacks overwhelm you, then you might want to consider another career path.
For as flexible as freelancing can be, the flipside of that benefit is inconsistency. When you work in a salaried position, you show up for your scheduled hours knowing that work will be there. When you freelance, you either hustle for clients, or you don’t make money.
For folks without connections already, building that freelance network can be difficult. Also, it can be challenging to learn how to save money from times when business is good to prepare for dry spells.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
If you’ve decided that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and you’re ready to build your freelance network, the first step is to lay the groundwork. Before you start looking for clients, you want to be on firm footing. This will give you the stability you need during the earliest and most challenging months.
Don’t Quit Your Job–Yet
As a freelancer, you may eventually make enough money and have enough clients to go full-time and quit your day job. But you should wait to do that until you’ve already built your freelance.
This is because freelancing will require some preparation. For instance, you will want to save up some extra money before you start working for yourself. This will come in handy for times when business is slow.
Practice Networking Now
The time to start building your freelance network is when you still have a job. Spend your free time joining Facebook groups, forums, and slack groups online. Ask your friends for connections.
Also, you can start freelancing part-time with a few clients while you’re working. This way, your freelance income will be supplementary. And, if you have the option to go part-time at your day job, rather than quitting right away, that’s an even better option.
Learn to Work from Home
One factor of freelancing that many folks fail to prepare for is the remote work aspect. While some folks naturally thrive in this environment, others struggle to overcome distractions.
But with the right setup and preparation, working from home can be even more productive than working from a commercial office space. To get to this place, start practicing now. Ask your boss for permission to start working from home so you can figure out what works for you.
Where to Find Clients
Now that you’ve decided to start freelancing, and you’ve set yourself up for self-employment, it’s time to look for clients and get contracts. Here’s where to find them.
Have a Networking Mindset
When you make your living by freelancing, you should have the attitude that you are always networking. There are opportunities to find clients everywhere you go–at restaurants, at the doctor’s office, at your kids’ school events.
Keep your eyes and ears open for people who might have need of your services. Also, keep business cards with you so that you are always ready to network. You don’t want to scribble your email address down on a napkin to hand to a potential client.
Follow-Up, and Ask for Recommendations
Every client you get holds the potential to unlock more clients. Building good relationships with these clients is key to developing more business.
After you finish a project for a client, follow up with them to see if they are satisfied, and to find out whether they might need more services in the future. Also, set up a page on your website for reviews and testimonials so satisfied clients can share their experiences.
You can even consider offering a deal for customers who give referrals. This can be a good way to encourage both repeat business and recommendations.
Make Friends with Other Freelancers
Other freelancers in your same space could present competition for you. But they could also be a valuable asset in building your own freelance network.
For instance, if you build relationships with other freelancers, they may be able to recommend clients to you with projects that meet your specializations. In return, you can do the same for them.
There are plenty of places where you can meet other freelancers. For instance, online forums and message boards can help you connect with freelancers across the world. For folks in your local area, you can look for meetup groups.
Also, keep an eye out of non-traditional events. For instance, some industries participate in community service events as a group. This can be a great opportunity to meet new folks.
Look for Opportunities to Speak at Events
Most industries hold summits and conferences for experts to share ideas and present new developments in the field. These conferences can be a great opportunity to speak about your skills, which can help you get your name out there.
Even if you can’t get the opportunity to speak, you can look for opportunities to table at events. This way, you can network with attendees throughout the event. This is a good opportunity to pass out business cards and get email leads.
Use Social Media
Another good way to develop contacts for your freelance network is to run a social media campaign. This can help you reach more contacts, and get engagement with your content.
With your clients’ permission, you can share examples of projects you have done. This will give potential clients the opportunity to see what your work looks like. Then, they will be encouraged to look at your work further.
Also, social media can be another good option for encouraging clients to share your work. For instance, you can offer discounts or incentives to clients that post your hashtag on their accounts.
Optimize Your Website
Every freelancer should have a professional-looking website that displays a portfolio of their work. Also, the content on this website should make use of search engine optimization (SEO). This will help clients find you when they search terms related to your business.
Launching Your Freelance Network
With these tips in hand, you will be on your way to building a strong freelance network. This is the first step to turning your hobby or skill into a sustainable source of income.
What strategies have you used to build your freelance network? What have you done to address setbacks? Let us know in the comments!