Ask for SCORE by Dean Swanson
Many of our SCORE clients start their businesses as freelancers. This process is a great start and has real benefits. On the other hand, it has some pitfalls. My advice is to treat freelancing like the business it is.
One of our content partners, Lori Martinek, owner and principal of ED/c Partners, recently completed an article for us on this topic. Lori’s extensive experience across all aspects of the marketing equation (agency, client and media) has made her a sought-after brand strategist in economic and corporate development. I share some of his thoughts on this subject.
Building a successful freelance business is similar to running any small business: you need a plan to be competitive.
Freelance opportunities abound in many industries, including project management, graphic design, social media management, content development, medical billing, and administrative support. The shift to remote working has been a boon for freelancers, as has the pandemic. More than 45% of small businesses report using more freelancers now than they did before COVID.
At the same time, remote work has taken location out of the equation. Freelancers can work from anywhere or choose to move from city to city or country to country as digital nomads. One of the benefits of being a remote freelancer is having the ability to live and work anywhere in the world, which provides reliable high-speed internet access.
However, these trends and benefits have increased the demand and supply of freelancers, which makes differentiating your supply more critical. This is where branding comes in. Find an unmet need in the market and fill it. Create a specialty or niche. Make your offer stand out. GPs are a dime a dozen. Like any product, it will be easier and cheaper to focus your efforts through targeted marketing. Be strategic who you choose to reach out to.
It takes time to build a reliable stream of income. Start in a financially comfortable place. Most often, this means working from a home office. Keep your overhead as low as possible. This is especially important while you’re building your business, but it’s good advice for any stage of the game. significant investments in commercial offices or major city addresses. Where you are is far less important than what you have to offer.
Build a network or expand your existing contact base. Join business and civic groups and be active. Reach out to your base, tell them what you have to offer, and ask them to spread the word or pass referrals your way.
Don’t fall into the trap of wanting too much too soon or only bidding on high value projects. Be prepared to start small and grow your business through referrals from happy customers. New businesses tend to use a lot of freelancers. Likewise, small businesses use a lot of freelancers to save on payroll. Having more small customers will also make you less dependent on a single account.
Online platforms like Upwork exist to connect freelancers with potential clients but are very competitive. You will likely be more successful at building a personal network and leveraging it. Find local business groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations in the industries you would like to work in and join them. If money is tight, join LinkedIn and Facebook groups in target industries, engage with their members, and make connections.
Most importantly, get your first client. Be trustworthy. Do a good job. Provide value. And then take advantage of it. Ask for references. Research other potential customers in the same or similar industries. Make your clients your best source for new work, whether through new projects or referrals for new business.
Find a SCORE mentor in your area and work with them to develop a business plan that will get you started quickly. Your freelance career is a small business. Your SCORE Mentor can help you think through the fundamentals, develop a plan to reach potential customers, and provide access to online resources, webinars, and networking opportunities. As a national program, SCORE will be available to help you grow wherever you and your business go. Many SCORE Mentors have run successful consulting businesses and have valuable expertise to share.
Dean Swanson is a volunteer Certified SCORE Mentor and past SCORE Chapter President, District Director and Regional Vice President for the Northwest Region.