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Developing your client base

There are times when your freelance business needs a little push to keep the work – and money – rolling in. Clients can be very fickle. Add to that the possibility that the contract you were working on has finished, the company has recruited for the vacancy you were covering or the person on long-term leave has returned, and you may be looking for new clients. Even if everything is rosy, you may want to expand or develop particular areas of your service.

Marketing any small business can be an unrewarding activity. Potential clients may not understand what you can add to their bottom line, or they already have their stable of freelancers and if they add you, you can be sure you’ll be at the bottom of the pile. Applying to agencies might require references but your clients have had you sign confidentiality agreements in blood so you quickly come to a stalemate.

Marketing any small business can be an unrewarding activity

Despite having highly satisfied clients over the years, you hate any sort of ‘cold calling’ or sending speculative CVs, you have little opportunity for networking and you are telephone-phobic. So what can you do?

Can’t someone else do it?*

Image credit: andresr / 123RF Stock Photo

The simple answer is yes. Your existing clients can be your best route to new contracts and can serve to spread the good word about your services. Nearly all my work has arisen through word-of-mouth recommendations. The most spectacular started with a job passed to me by another editor for a university lecturer; he spread the word via a visiting, foreign lecturer who passed it to a colleague at a conference back home. It culminated in a phone call one Sunday (yes – Sunday) from a research institute in central Europe looking for a proofreader. I have been with that client for three years now.

Your existing clients can be your best route to new relationships

But this is rather random. What is needed is an incentive for your loyal clients to give things a nudge on your behalf. Academic and business clients may attend conferences; companies may be part of a group or consortium that could be tapped into; people network in person or on social media. Even passing the word within a single organisation can bear fruit – for one client, I started working with one person, and now deal with four directors and a head of department.

If you are thinking about developing your client base, here’s an idea for the reluctant marketeer. Negotiate an incentive to existing clients – for example, offer some free or discounted work if they recommend you to another organisation that turns into your new client. They are rewarded for doing your selling, and you have some new clients .

The great thing about this method, apart from the obvious, is that your name will be passed on to people in fields you are familiar with and competent in. That can cut out a lot of the risk of mismatches. You are also dealing initially with those you already have a good relationship with, which makes life a lot easier.

Job done.

*Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode ‘Trash of the Titans’ (DVD). 20th Century Fox.

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