Hitting deadlines can be challenging when the client doesn’t help.
Some clients expect you to be able hit short deadlines even though they delay sending you important information and are clearly out of their depth when it comes to managing time and organising a project. But time wasting clients cost you money.
Canny freelancers can find new business opportunities in almost everything they do. But they need to open their eyes to the potential.
I’m always suprised by freelance writers that tell me they struggle to find work. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure to work cheaply thanks to freelancer.com and its ilk. But there’s an angle in almost everything we do.
About three weeks ago I attended a media event for Sandisk memory cards [Disclosure: Sandisk flew me from Melbourne to Sydney for this event] and sat next to the deputy editor for an in-flight magazine. As we were chatting I found out a little more about the publication and what sorts of stories they were interested in from freelance contributors.
As it turns out, I was only a week or so from taking a two-week holiday to a great destination. As the conversation moved, it became apparent that I had an opportunity to sell a story about my holiday to the magazine.
I’ve previously discussed the loneliness of freelancing and the importance of scheduling out of the office time in order to maintain contact with other people. Media events and conferences is a great way to do that without sacrificing productivity.
One of the great benefits I’ve found from broadening my contacts is that potential new clients come my way. For example, I’ve picked up work writing about religion and the environment, and potentially, travel, by looking for ways to take my core skill, writing, and applying more broadly than the technology and business topics that I’ve been focussed on. The result is that I get better at my craft and I increase my pool of clients.
What do you do to create new business? Do you just try to find more clients that offer more of the same sort of work that you currently do? Or, do you actively seek ways to expand your client base by expanding into new areas?
Whether you’re starting out or established, increasing your business involves relationship building.
When I started out freelancing, my first couple of paying jobs came about quite by accident. Although I enjoyed writing, I’d never really thought about making a living from it. I sold my first paying story when a friend referred me. She was busy and needed someone to help out. I then made a point of going to visit the editor of that magazine. Through a Mac user group I met another journalist and he let me know that there was a journalist mailing list running that I’d be interested in. From there I met many other journalists and … well, you get the picture.
At every step of my journey, it’s been relationships with other people that have led to me getting work. I’m now at the point where I rarely have to pitch stories to editors. As I’ve worked with enough people and made a point of delivering what my editors want on time I’ve established a reputation as someone they can rely on.
But as well as delivering the best work I could, I made a point of meeting with people. That’s meant investing in some travel and setting time aside to meet with people. In some cases, that meant drinking a lot of coffee during casual meetings that weren’t about specific work but focussed on simply establishing a professional friendship.
I’ve gone on several conferences where there have been other journalists and editors.While those events have often been hard to justify on a pure dollars per day basis, they have all paid me back many times over. I’ve made contacts at those events that have lead to lots of new work.
More recently, it’s been the use of social media that’s been useful. The challenge of tools like Twitter is that the breadth of relationships is substantial but the connections are usually quite shallow. However, by engaging in dialog with contacts you can get leads for stories, fresh ideas and other valuable information.
When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. A great way is to engage your local community.
When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. You could turn to advertising in freelance directories or the like but a great way is to engage your local community.
On the weekend, I spoke at a local Mac user group called AUSOM. As someone who writes about technology, I often talk at user groups and community events. This serves two purposes.
1. It’s a great way to support local organizations in a meaningful way.
2. It’s a low cost way to increase your profile.
From a business point of view, increasing your local profile can be useful as potential clients are likely to be close by.
Your direct skills and those that you’ve collected in addition are all valuable assets. There are photography groups, writing workshops, computer users, schools, churches – lots of places looking for quality speakers.
Seek some groups out. Go to a meeting or two and offer your services as a speaker.
The payback on a junket can come in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Industry junkets can be a challenge for freelancers. Outside of the ethical issues associated with accepting what amounts to a gift from a vendor and having to weigh that against any genuine benefit that comes from participation, there is the question of how you value your time. I would assert that you can’t always count the value of participation in simple financial terms.
Sure, your time is worth money, but being a journalist, freelance or otherwise, is as much about participating in life as it is about making money and meeting deadlines. A case in point.
Coupla years back, Canon ran one of their famous “event” shindigs that took the assembled junketeers to the Hunter Valley [Editor’s note – in New South Wales, Australia].
Part of the itinerary involved spending some hours at a greyhound racing track, where the privilege of access with a license to shoot and the use of any of Canon’s L series lenses meant a bucketload of pics were taken. Three of those pics are still part of my folio.
Anyway, turns out that among the crowd was a bloke in a wheelchair. Crusty face, coke bottle glasses, form guide in one hand and a fag permanently hanging out his mouth. (Reality check: fag = ciggie, OK?)
He was the quintessential trackside character, and every tog on the course knew it. He got lots of pics taken.
Coupla days later, I get a call from a dog trainer. Ever the enterprising type, I’d managed a sale while I was there. Took some pics of his dogs. Anyway, the guy asks me if I got pics of Charlie.
“Yeah, you know, the guy in the wheelchair. His funeral is on Friday.”
“Yeah, the day you mob came down to the track was almost his last day on earth. You saw his mate there, right? Well, his mate asked him what he’d like to do most before kicking the bucket and Charlie said he’d like a day at the track. He was a fixture around here for years. So his mate nicked a hospital wheelchair, put ‘im on a bus… his mate had been done for drink driving … and brung him down to the track. At the end of the day, offers were coming from all corners to get Charlie back to the hospital, but his mate refused, saying ‘I got ‘im here. I’ll get ‘im home.'”
So I contacted Canon, told them what happened, and because they had all the photographers’ CF cards, they collected all the pics of Charlie they could find, put them on a disk and couriered them to the trainer the next day.
On the following day, the day of the funeral, the trainer gives me a call.
“Mate, I can’t thank you enough for organising that. The pictures were amazing. They were exactly how we all remembered Charlie. Try to imagine a room full of trackies and trainers huddled around a laptop watching the slideshow, mate. It was great. Couldn’t have done a better send-off.”
The moral of the story? Sometimes really good things happen when you throw your bean-counting to the wind and trust in the possibilities of serendipitous adventure.
Chris Oaten is a freelance photographer and writer with more than a decade of experience covering consumer technology. His web site is www.insightvisuals.com.au