How to be First in Line for Freelance Work
Want clients to hire you instead of another freelancer?
When clients are ready to hire a freelancer, you need to be first in line if you want them to choose you and not another freelancer. Being first in line means that the client thinks of you—and not another freelancer—at that moment.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Isn’t it frustrating when clients seem interested in your freelance services but don’t hire you? Maybe the client said they’ll put you in their freelance database. But you never hear from them again. Or maybe you submitted a proposal that the client liked and you were sure you had the freelance job. But the client went dark after that.
These things happen to freelancers all of the time. And they’re rarely personal.
Focus on Priorities
Our clients are very busy. They need to focus on their priorities.
And hiring a freelancer isn’t a priority right now—even if it seemed like the client needed to get started on a freelance job yesterday. Things change fast, and competing priorities become more important.
Clients who say they’ll put you in their freelance database or keep you in mind for future freelance jobs aren’t lying to you or blowing you off. They just don’t need freelance help right now.
Up to 90% of the time, clients aren’t ready to hire a freelancer when you first contact them, say freelance gurus Ed Gandia and Ian Brodie.
Be First in Line for Freelance Jobs
When clients are ready to hire a freelancer, if you want them to choose you, you need to be first in line. Being first in line means that the client thinks of you—and not another freelancer—at that moment.
And since clients are so busy, they’re probably only going to think of the freelancer(s) who’s been in touch with them most recently—and most often.
You can make sure that this is you—if you follow up with interested clients regularly. Interested clients is my term for clients who’ve said they were interested in your freelance services but haven’t hired you yet.
It’s easy to follow up with interested clients. And it only takes a few minutes a week.
But most freelancers rarely or never do this.
That’s a real shame, because you’re much more likely to get freelance jobs from a client who already knows about you than from a brand-new prospective client. And you’ve already put some time and effort into attracting the interested client’s attention.
There are lots of reasons for not following up:
- You don’t want to bother or annoy the client
- Being rejected hurts
- “Selling yourself” is so hateful that you can’t bear the thought of doing it again anytime soon . . .
Do Professional Follow Up
Professional follow up won’t be uncomfortable. And it’s not about “selling yourself.” In fact, most of the time, you shouldn’t even mention your freelance services.
If your follow up is professional, you won’t be bothering or annoying anyone. Clients often appreciate the follow up, because they need great freelancers—even if they don’t need you right now. One of my new clients recently thanked me for following up with him (for the third time), because he had “a million things going on” and keeping in touch helped him remember that he wanted to work with me.
And a client who’s expressed interested in your services but hasn’t hired you yet hasn’t rejected you. The client just doesn’t need freelance help yet or has forgotten about you—because you haven’t followed up and you aren’t first in line.
Follow up is one of 10 steps to freelance success.
Get More Freelance Jobs and Referrals
I’ve gotten many high-paying clients by following up. And lots of other freelancers I know have too. Here are some of our stories.
In 2017, I worked on a big project for an Ivy League nursing school. My contact called me “an absolute pleasure to work with” and told me the he “couldn’t be happier with the final product.” But once the project was over, he didn’t need any more freelance help.
So I put my contact on my e-newsletter list and sent him a card at the holidays. This year, when a colleague at the nursing school needed help with another big project, he referred them to me. The colleague hired me after one email, because she trusted the referral from my contact.
Another client, who I’ve been working with since 1998, hired me nearly two years after he first said he wanted to work with me. Between my first contact with this client and when he hired me, I had been following up regularly.
Be Helpful and Relevant
Freelancers Joy Drohan and Brandon May have gotten clients by following up too. Joy, a freelance writer and editor in environmental and agricultural sciences and owner of Eco-Write, likes to send interested clients useful content, like a link to great sources of free high-quality photos. She also sets up Google alerts, so she knows about awards, projects completed, or other accomplishments. “If a potential client is in the news, I can contact them to say congratulations,” she says.
Brandon, a freelance medical writer and owner of May Medical Communications, also likes to comment on news about the companies he wants to work with. He also sends his interested clients relevant articles.
“I’m a very non-confrontational type of person, so I make the follow up about offering something of value to the potential client. I try to show them that I truly care and have put the time into learning about the company,” he says. Brandon got two of his biggest clients after more than a year of follow up.
Read more about how Joy and Brandon follow up.
Be First in Line with Customized Follow Up
So how should you follow up?
Joy and Brandon are both doing this right. They’re providing useful content that’s customized to each interested client, and commenting on relevant news.
Customized follow up is the best type. Most of your follow up should be customized to the client organization or your contact person.
Commenting on news about the client or your contact is an easy way to follow up.
For example, when one of my interested clients hired a new CEO, I sent my contact a LinkedIn message saying that I hoped this was good news for her, along with a link to the story. I found out about this because I subscribe to the client’s e-newsletter. Reading the story and sending the message took me about three minutes.
Ways to find news to comment on include:
- Google Alerts
- The company’s Newsroom page
- LinkedIn updates or tweets.
Sharing relevant content like blog posts, reports, and podcasts is a great way to follow up. Sign up for e-newsletters in your industry so this content come right to your inbox and you don’t have to waste time searching for it.
Be First in Line with Generic Follow Up
Generic follow up—sending the same thing to everyone, works too. Developing your own e-newsletter is a great way to follow up with interested clients. This isn’t customized to each client, but most of the content will be useful and relevant, not promotional.
An e-newsletter lets you highlight your expertise and preferred work. For example, I love doing content marketing for hospitals, healthcare marketing agencies, etc. The feature story in a recent issue of Engage! focused on how to simplify content on complex medical topics. The story shows that I understand patients and can help my clients communicate with them.
Generic follow up also includes holiday cards. These should be print cards that arrive in the mail shortly after Thanksgiving—before cards start getting lost in the holiday rush.
Follow Up with a Friendly Reminder About Your Services
Once or twice a year, it’s fine to send interested clients a friendly reminder that you’re available for freelance work. But this must be part of your follow up process and not the only time you contact interested clients. Send a professional, low-key email.
Develop Your Simple Follow Up Process
Now you know what to send interested clients. Next you need to develop a simple process so that it’s easy for you to follow up regularly and you’ll be first in line when clients are ready to hire a freelancer.
Consistent follow up requires three things:
- Developing a list
- Scheduling the time
- Developing your content library.
After you develop your list of interested clients, put them in a tracker with a schedule for following up. You can do your tracker in a spreadsheet, a database, a Word document, or any other format that works for you.
Mark time for follow up on your calendar—and treat it like a deadline for a client. Make sure you get it done. Set aside a little time every week to check for news about your interested clients.
About every two months, send each interested client something to show that you’re thinking of them. Record each follow up, and any response you get, in your tracker.
Having a content library ensures that you’ll have lots of content (blog posts, reports, podcasts, etc.) ready when you need it. Stock your library (a folder on your computer with the content or a list of links to content) with:
- E-newsletters that are relevant to your clients
- Relevant LinkedIn updates and tweets (I get lots of content for follow up through LinkedIn)
- Resources from your professional associations.
If something is timely, like my interested client’s new CEO, send it along right away. Otherwise, file it away for your scheduled follow up.
Convert More Interested Clients into Actual Clients
Professional, consistent follow up with interested clients puts you first in line when they’re ready to hire a freelancer. Once you develop your follow up process, it only takes a few minutes a week to convert more interested clients into actual clients.
Follow up also helps you get more work from current clients and from past clients you haven’t worked with for a while.
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