As a freelance creative professional, business development is your most essential activity – and probably your most challenging. Researching new opportunities, connecting with prospects and doing all the follow-up can be difficult and time-consuming. Here's how to make it easier.
If you're seeking more work, finding ways to spin more projects out of the freelance work you're already doing presents a smoother path to business development.
But it isn't just about getting more work; it's also about finding ways to use what you've already done to make future projects more efficient. Can you repurpose the website design template you built for one client for another project? Can you use research you conducted for one proposal to inform another job?
Here are three ways to use this organic method of freelance business development:
1. Use research for other projects
Perhaps you've read articles by creative business experts like David C. Baker and Ilise Benun, who encourage freelancers to focus on a particular market niche or discipline, like healthcare or WordPress website design. The benefits of specializing your business are many – chief among them is that you develop deep expertise in the subject.
In other words, any research you do for one project feeds every project you do. I'll give you an example: One of my two content specialties is food, especially local food. I edit a quarterly food magazine, I contribute food-related stories to other publications, and I'm writing a cookbook on local food. Every story idea, every contact, every bit of research I do informs all of these projects. As I'm contacting people to feature in the book, I'm gathering story ideas for the other publications. I'm cultivating relationships with interview sources that I can speak to for multiple stories.
Next time you gather research on a client or industry to prepare for a proposal or kickoff meeting, think about how you can put that information to greater use. Do you see a trend that shows a business need you can capitalize on? Can you share a nugget of insight that you've gleaned with a hot prospect as a way of staying in touch?
2. Target clients of clients
This freelance business development strategy can be especially productive if you and your clients are in the B2B service field. Case in point: Two years ago, I worked with a small creative agency to develop content for their new website. It was a great project, and we really clicked. A few months later, the agency brought me in as a content developer for a web project they delivered to one of their clients. We continue to actively seek opportunities for more collaboration.
Think about the people and companies you're collaborating with. Who are their clients? Could they use your services, too?
3. Do great work
Here's the bottom line: If you perform well for clients and turn in strong work, meet your obligations and deliver on your promises, you'll prove yourself a reliable, talented collaborator.
Great work is your most powerful marketing tool. Great work begets great work. How? Happy clients will come up with new projects for you. They'll tell colleagues in other parts of their organization about you. They'll provide testimonials that help you attract new clients. Great work helps you build a killer portfolio and gives you opportunities to sell your skills with confidence and enthusiasm.
One of my key clients has been so satisfied with my ongoing content marketing work that they recently asked me to pick up a secondary project. When this project wraps, I'm preparing to share with my contact a larger strategic proposal for ongoing work that includes additional components. One job well done has a multiplier effect.
And remember, business development – even through organic means – takes time. Author Pamela Slim calls it the "20X Rule" – you'll plant at least 20 seeds for every one that sprouts. So don't give up.