Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?
Back in 1984 Lionel Richie got straight to it. Well, sort of.
As anyone who freelances knows, it’s a way of life that isn’t exactly free. You become your human resource department, scheduling and booking agent. All these things take up time and resources, leaving you with a smaller sliver of time to do the actual work. What is truly freeing is the ability to interact with a variety of people, set your boundaries and release limitations.
Although I started freelance work awhile ago, I just recently made the transition to relying on my freelance work for a good portion of my income.
As I’ve discovered, one of the most challenging aspects of the freelance life is putting yourself out there for work.
Recommendations are wonderful, and the idea is to get to the point where most of your new work trickles down like manna from the referral heavens.
However, until that glorious time arrives you must hang the open-for-business sign on the door. Your must put the headphones on and twirl that sign.
With job postings and boards, you are limited by defined expectations and often a pre-set payscale. It can be depressing as a quality content writer with some experience to see Craigslist posts that read something like this:
Freelance Writer Needed for New Digital Magazine.
Witty and funny the writer will create 5-10 thought-provoking buzz-worthy posts per day. Work from home with some office facetime required.
Must have a finger on pulse on what’s hot in the Millenial generation. Is able to stay on top of trends in music, entertainment and the fashion industry.
MUST know WordPress. Absolutely no EXCEPTIONS! If you don’t know WordPress like you know your own mother, don’t bother to respond.
Excellent photoshop skills a plus.
Coding skills (Ruby, C++ preferred) a plus
InDesign a plus
Cooking, baking and parasailing skills a plus (all activities our CEO enjoys)
Must know Quickbooks and like dogs. Some light bookeeping and dogwalking are a part of this position.
Pay $10-11 (based on experience)
Ugh. If all you are doing is looking on Craigslist or any other job board for that matter, things get depressing quick.
It seems impossible to reach up to those clients who pay fairly, or maybe even (gasp) well.
I’m starting to believe some of your best chances of reaching the right people are to get comfortable with self-pitching and soliciting.
Now, why would I say self-solicit instead of a much less ick-inducing word like, let’s say…um, I don’t know, networking?
Networking is getting to know people in a hopefully relaxed setting. It soliciting light. The emphasis is on establishing connection and getting to the business talk later. Networking sometimes costs as we pay to go to networking/social events. It’s drink in one hand, the other on your business card. And it is crucial, but shouldn’t be the only way to sell yourself in person.
With self-soliciting, you are making a direct pitch. Which is almost as scary as Lionel hitting on his drama student.
How to do this without going into carnival barker territory or without placating and pleading (sorry Lionel) is the tough part.
Here are my tips from where I’m currently at in my self-soliciting game:
Look for opportunity everywhere, and I mean everywhere
Awhile back, I was scouting locations for a baby shower I was throwing for one of my closest friends. I was in a cute little pie shop in Noho. My focus was firmly on the baby shower (and pie) but I made sure to check out the counter where everyone posts their business cards and flyers. A real estate flyer stood out to me for their clean, modern design. I picked it up to take home and research for opportunities.
Take Home and Assess
While going about your business, collect whatever stands out to you, the phone number of the business, the shop’s name or in my case a flyer. Now, it’s time to come home and do the research. Having done some work with a real estate company in the past, I’m aware that successful real estate agents are busy. They might want to stand out from the crowd with quality blog posts and MLS descriptions but are pressed for time. They might not have an established writer or maybe they do but have room for an additional person on the team.
This is probably the most difficult step. You are cold-connecting with this person. So, how do you do it in a way that minimizes the gross factor?
After researching, decide on your point of contact. In this case, I discovered the real estate agent had a marketing person and decided to contact that person directly. Look at how they are presenting themselves and try to match that tone when reaching out. If it is a formal company, use a bit of a formal tone. Young and hip? Maybe it’s time to be more conversational. If you aren’t sure, I would err on the side of slightly more formal.
Give an Alternative
Once you’ve done your research and decided on method and point of contact, it’s time to craft the approach. In my email, I let her know who I am (a writer), what I can do for her (this is where your research comes in–what can you do to make their work easier?) and then I gave her an alternative.
It’s important first to make a direct pitch focusing on the service you can offer to them. Be to the point and positive. Make sure to let them know what sparked your interest.
This is where it gets delicate.
They may already have this service or some form of it. Even if you think it could be better (like web design) from what you have observed be careful about the way you word things. In my case, I knew they already had a marketing person. They already had good writing. So, I based my approach from a “growth” standpoint.
“I like what you are doing already. If you have room for another (insert team member, writer, web designer) I would love the opportunity to meet…Even if you don’t have a need at this time I would love to stay in contact.”
And then, close with an alternate. An offer to meet-up or stay in contact even if they don’t need your services.
In my case, she replied we met up, and I’ve retained her as a contact–success!
Cold self-soliciting shouldn’t be overlooked as a method of growing your freelance career. You never know…it may lead to someone saying “Yes!” when you ask “Is it me you’re looking for?”