Freelance Success is Defined By the Relationships You Build

One of the mistakes many freelancers make when trying to market their businesses is to misunderstand the definition of a business “relationship.”

  • Sending a tweet does not establish a relationship.
  • Having someone Like you on Facebook does not mean you have a relationship.
  • When someone leaves a comment on your blog, it doesn’t mean you have a relationship.
  • Talking with a prospect on the phone does not mean you have a relationship.
  • Completing that first job for a client does not mean you have a relationship.

What you have is a start, the beginnings of a relationship. Even having completed one project for a client equates only to having survived a first date.

However, the growth and success of your freelance business depends on strong relationships.

Let’s look at two imaginary freelancers.

Jack – Freelancer #1 … who doesn’t build deep relationships.

Jack is a talented copywriter and gets pretty good fees for the work he does. But he spends a lot of his time on outbound marketing, trying to get the next few jobs by jumping up in front of new prospective clients.

He’s a good salesperson, so he converts a reasonable number of the strangers he approaches for work.

But this is what he does, week by week … he does work and he looks for work.

In fact, he spends too much time on his outbound marketing. This cuts into his billable hours. He also finds it hard to raise his fees, because he has no trusted, deep relationships, and has been unable to establish any kind of authority status.

Frank – Freelancer #2 … focuses on building a few solid relationships.

Frank really likes to get to know his clients. And he really takes care of them. He sends them gift baskets at Christmas and he meets them face-to-face when he can.

He also follows up on every project, and lets his clients know he is available 24/7.

Actually, he really likes his clients, and they have become an important part of his life. These relationships mean something to him. As a result, he does his best work for them, and is perceived as being part of the team.

This means Frank doesn’t have to spend much time prospecting for clients. No cold calls. No panic promotions to fill gaps in his work schedule. His clients come back to him again and again. And his new clients are almost all referrals from the few, happy clients he works with.

His billable hours are about double what Jack manages. And his fees have gone up consistently over the years. His clients don’t object, because they see the huge value he brings to their companies.

Redefining relationships in your business.

It’s great to have your tweet retweeted by a prospective client. Don’t get me wrong. And it’s good when a prospect comments on your Facebook update or your Google+ post.

But what you have established is a tenuous, delicate connection, not a relationship. It’s just a start.

The next step is to strengthen that connection by taking your communications to the next level … by email or by phone.

By all means, create dozens of connections with prospects. But then your job is to choose the most promising of those connections and transform them, step-by-step, into real relationships.

To make a six-figure income as a freelancer, year after year, all you need is three or four strong, enduring relationships.

My own story …

Back when I was a direct-mail copywriter, in the UK and then in Canada, I never had more than three or four clients, and barely spent any time on looking for new clients. I was Frank. I was always being given more work by my existing clients, and new clients came to me by referral.

When I started out as an online copywriter, I spent a few years as Jack. I spent way too much time looking for new clients, and not nearly enough time deepening my relationships with the clients I had. Bad move. I still made six-figures, but had to work a lot harder to keep the revenue up.

Over the last five years, I have moved back to being Frank. Most of my income now comes to me through three partner companies. The people I work with in those companies have been my clients, and friends, for about 10 years.

Wrapping it up …

First, understand the difference between a casual connection and a relationship.

Then, identify the connections with the greatest potential and work hard to transform them into real relationships.

Finally, nurture those relationships, and take care of your core clients.

Do that, and you’ll make six-figures without all the stress and anxiety associated with constantly having to go out and find new clients.

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Published: March 27, 2012

1 Response to “Freelance Success is Defined By the Relationships You Build”

  1. Great post, I'll focus on being a 'Frank' from now on. Hwever, you didn't make this obvious but wouldn't someone on your email list who always opens and reads you mail and also engages with your blog post be deemed as a relationship?? Even if he's yet to spend money with me???

    Guest (Chu D Obii)

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