How to get more freelance work

Well… it’s been awhile since my last post. It probably isn’t a surprise to most people, seeing as a huge majority of blogs are abandoned within a few months of launching. However, I assure you I have no intentions of abandonment. Since the new year, my day job has kept me very busy, a renewed sense of health-consciousness¬†has seen me at the gym 5-6 times per week, I took a long vacation, and I’ve been very busy with freelance.

That’s right, I’ve got the age-old-and often sought after-problem of too much work. To be clear, it’s not all paying jobs. I volunteer time to manage the Hyde Park Blast website, and have also been volunteering time to a local startup called Venturepax, about which I am passionate for the cause, idea and people. I can’t complain though, as it’s certainly been a good year so far, but I do wish I had more time to blog and get my name out there as a consultant/strategist as well as freelancer.

Friends and co-workers seeking extra income often ask me how I get so much freelance. I got to thinking about that yesterday after reading the post: HOW TO: Find and Land Freelance Work. While I don’t think it’s wrong, I feel that article only glosses over the single biggest factor in my freelance¬†acquisition. It’s obviously important to network, be precise and clear, sell yourself, be creative, and show passion. If you ask me though, here are the biggest factors to freelance success:

  1. Be more than your clients need
    No matter what it is your clients are looking for, it should be apparent to them that you are, and can deliver, more. This means over-achieving, giving your clients more than they asked for, getting it done early, and making sure they’re happy. This drives both repeat business from your clients as well as referrals to their contacts. Here are the facts of my freelance situation: I’ve been freelancing in Cincinnati for nine years and every single client has either been someone I’ve previously worked with or a referral from an existing client. Build a reputation as someone who can get things done in a way that makes people happy, and the work will come to you. To really drive this point home, every minute I’ve spent on freelance this year has been from a client who I’ve worked with before. Many of my clients continue to come back to me.
  2. Don’t take on more than you can do
    This is the hardest rule to follow. It can take many forms, but the two most common are that you take on too much work and can’t complete it all or that you take on a job that is over your head and you can’t complete it. Either situation will likely result in you getting too stressed out and your client ultimately being unhappy with your work. Just as over-achieving will earn you a good reputation, getting a reputation as someone who can’t deliver can, and probably will, haunt you for a long time.
  3. Be honest, and work with your clients
    Most companies looking for freelancers have the same story: they were working with someone who wasn’t meeting their needs. In most cases the relationship has been soured to the point where it’s almost hostile. That’s because freelancers in general have the nasty reputation of not being open and honest with their clients. At least a quarter of my first projects with clients involved bailing them out of a situation they got into with a previous freelancer. In many cases it wasn’t that the freelancer couldn’t deliver on time, but that there was little-to-no communication about delays and issues. If you will have to miss a deadline, be upfront about it as soon as you realize there will be a delay. Work together with your client to find a solution that will work. Falling off the map and not returning communication is the worst thing you can do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to turn away work
    If you find yourself faced with a situation where you’re overloaded or you can’t perform the tasks required for the job, be honest and tell the client you aren’t able to take it on. Even better, refer them to someone else who can help them. It seems counter-intuitive, but I can’t tell you the number of projects I’ve turned away in the past, and I don’t think it’s hurt me at all. Clients appreciate honesty. They won’t hold it against you if you can’t work miracles, and they’ll consider you more dependable if they think you’ll be straight with them about your capabilities. Three of my clients where clients where I initially turned them away due to my workload, but kept in touch with them and eventually got other projects later on.

I’m not claiming to be perfect, in my career I’ve broken every one of my above rules, and learned from every bad experience. But if you ask me the keys to freelancing success, I say these are the most important.

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