Why should freelancers prioritize building relationships?
The most successful freelancers are the ones who work with top-tier clients, the types of companies that both understand and value the work.
Because these clients understand the work, they don’t require as much hand-holding. They ask smart questions and give good feedback. They don’t change the scope last minute and they treat you like a partner.
Because they value the work, they pay premium rates. They understand the care and time it takes to produce a good result and they believe that result is worth the effort.
Every freelancer wants these types of clients, but they’re hard to find because most of them aren’t on freelance sites and job boards.
Top-tier clients are well-informed and well-connected, so they typically find freelancers through their networks. So to land these types of clients, you have to build relationships, both with the clients themselves and with other freelancers who serve them.
How do you recommend those new to freelancing get started building their community?
I cover this in way more detail in my free course, but the short version is this:
- Find your local hubs – Look for places where your clients, and freelancers serving your clients, are hanging out. These could be coworking spaces, industry meetups, Slack groups, startup accelerators, etc.
- Go and participate – Ask for advice from other freelancers. Provide value by teaching about your area of expertise. Ask questions of others and show an interest.
How do you determine the level of energy you put into developing a relationship with a new client or other freelancers?
In his book Give and Take, psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant divides people into three groups: givers, takers, and matchers.
It’s a great book and well worth a read, but the headline is that the most successful professionals are people who focus on giving wisely.
Unlike takers who are in it for themselves and matchers who view relationships transactionally, givers are devoted to giving back. But the successful ones don’t do so indiscriminately. Instead, they focus, on giving in ways where they can actually make an impact efficiently and to those who have shared goals or interests.
Essentially, they think about expanding the pie for everyone.
In a freelancing context, this means thinking strategically about your expertise, your target clients, and other freelancers who offer complimentary services. Prioritize your efforts based on how relevant you are to them and how much of an impact you could make.
If you’re a freelance UX designer, for example, doing an elaborate favor for the owner of a solely brick-and-mortar business probably isn’t a great use of your time.
But running a free workshop for web developers on the importance of UX and how to spot common UX problems could be a fantastic way to give back. The attendees would get tons of value, and you’d demonstrate your expertise to potential clients and other freelancers.
How has prioritizing professional relationship-building impacted your career?
In terms of raw metrics, last year I earned nearly 3x what I ever did at a full time job, and 92% of that revenue was from clients who I met through referrals and other forms of relationship building.
But I think the non-financial impact has been even higher.
I have enough opportunities that I can turn down projects that don’t interest me. The clients I work with treat me like a partner, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. And most importantly, I’ve met some genuinely interesting people I never would have otherwise!
What advice do you have for freelancers who struggle to find the time to build meaningful relationships?
The nice thing about building relationships is that it actually takes substantially less time than many other approaches to marketing your freelancing.
Blogging and content creation are extremely time intensive. The so-called expert advice for freelancers on sites like UpWork is to submit 25-50 proposals per week.
But you can build relationships in just an hour or two per week.
So start small and reconnect with the people you already know and ask for introductions, or attend an industry meetup in your area. You never know who you’ll meet!