How to Establish and Maintain a Strong Freelance Network

 

How to Establish & Maintain a Strong Freelance Network

Cold pitching is a great way to kickstart your freelance writing career, but let’s face it, it’s not very fun. Hunting down potential clients and their contact info isn’t exactly riveting, and there’s the fact that it’s a serious numbers game that requires you to send out 30+ pitches just to get a single nibble (more like 50+ when you have no past jobs under your belt). Now, if you have no clients and no contacts in the freelancing world, aka no network, it’s an awesome way to grow your business, but once you start getting jobs and building your rep, it becomes sort of unproductive. It’s time consuming, and there’s no guarantee that the people you’re pitching even want your services, much less that they have the budget to afford your new, experienced freelancer rates.

(Want to speed up your current cold pitching process? Read this post.)

After you’ve been freelancing for a while, the ideal scenario is to have a wide freelance network you can reach out to for more work. If you have a good network, sometimes the work comes to you with little to no effort. Doesn’t that sound nice?

I have reached the opening stages of this point in my career. I haven’t cold pitched at all in the past month, but I still just landed a large, long-term editing job, I have another editing job that should be coming soon, and I’ve had some nibbles on the ghostwriting front without doing too much of anything marketing-wise. I’ve been super busy in my personal life, so it’s been nice not having to fret so much about pitching. For the past six months or so, I’ve only pitched one week out of the month, for the most part, as I have old clients coming back to me and brand new work has materialized thanks to multiple online networks I belong to.

How do you get there? What are some ways to build your own network?

1. Get your face on multiple social platforms

Social media is king. If you’re not connected via three or more platforms, you’re losing serious business opportunities. Social media allows you to get client-attracting content into the world. It lets you create multiple profiles that advertise what you do. Thanks to those profiles, more online searches will pull up your name in relation to your niche. Having multiple platforms showcasing you as an involved, connected professional also makes you appear more legit to potential clients. I have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest accounts that I try to stay active on. Social media is not my forte, but I still make sure I’m getting my content in front of new eyes, even if I’m no guru.

I landed one of my favorite clients via LinkedIn, and I didn’t have to send any sort of pitch; my profile did the talking and he came to me.

2. Use social groups to showcase your expertise

Again with social media, but now I’m talking about the Facebook and LinkedIn groups that allow you to interact with other freelancers and your target clientele. These groups are so valuable because answering people’s questions and starting intelligent discussions about your niche topics establishes you as an expert in the eyes of folks in those groups. Even better, you’re connecting with and helping out people who either might need your services or who can recommend your services to others.

Through Facebook groups in particular, I’ve had multiple nibbles of interest in both editing and ghostwriting that could turn into future work. I’ve also gotten one agreement in writing with a fellow ghostwriter that will allow us each a 10% cut of any job we refer to the other. I wish I had gotten active in groups far earlier in my career instead of just in the past four months or so. I think my network would be even further along than it is at present.

(For more about how to effectively use social groups, read this post.)

3. Keep creating personal content

Start a blog. If it’s relevant to your clientele, even better. Attach it to your website. If it’s on one of your personal interests that is not related to your clientele, monetize it, and build up a passive income over time. As a freelance writer, and especially as a ghostwriter, you must actively be churning out your own fresh content on a regular basis. Why? You have to prove to your clients that you can write. If you want to pitch other blogs or write for magazines, that’s even cooler because you can provide clients with links to places other than your own site, establishing your credibility even further. This works best if you’re a blog writer or traditional freelancer writer.

If you’re a book writer like me, a blog covering topics relevant to what you do establishes you as an expert and gives you short personal samples to hand out to clients. I frequently use this blog’s posts to showcase my “how-to” genre writing abilities. I’m also going to start a blog aimed at my clients on my website. I have a few posts written. I wanted a larger arsenal, but I’m thinking I’m just going to get the few I have out there, and then that might push me to create more regularly for that blog, if it’s already live.

If you’re a book writer, having your own published books is essential, too. I’ve got two nonfiction titles under my name, and I’m working on getting my debut novel in print within the next year. This reassures my clients even further that I know what I’m doing, in addition to testimonials from past ghostwriting clients who have received good reviews and even agents thanks to my work.

4. Join niche networks

This one is another I wish I’d known about when I first started. As it would happen, I only got wise this year, but it’s already paid off in the form of two new editing clients and one small ghostwriting job at my new rates.

Check out the blogs, websites, and books of other successful freelancers in your niche and see what groups and online networks they belong to. Thanks to Kelly James-Enger (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my love for that woman), I joined the Publisher’s Marketplace in February 2017. It’s a reputable network of publishers, editors, ghostwriters, and authors. I paid $25 (a monthly payment) to create a professional profile on the site. The next day, I landed an editing job worth over $2,000. That client also provided ghostwriting work later on. About a month and a half later, I landed another long-term client who has already sent me two manuscripts. Find out where the best of the best in your niche hang out and get yourself into the club.

I get a hot ghostwriting job lead every few weeks thanks to another network, Gotham Ghostwriters. I had to go through an application and interview process for that one, but it’s free, and all of the job leads that come through are from vetted clients willing to pay pro rates. Now, not every job matches my skill set, and it’s a large network, so you are up against a lot of other proposals, but I’m still very grateful for those free leads.

Thanks to some talented folks in the Gotham Ghostwriters’ Facebook group, I very recently learned about Reedsy. I’ve talked about the platform a few times already, but it allows ghostwriters to create a profile and have clients come to them. It’s a bit like Upwork in that they take a percentage, but you have to pass an interview process and you have to have a substantial portfolio to qualify (they told me that, ideally, they want all members to have at least 10 projects in their portfolio). I’ve looked at a number of other profiles on there, and it is a place for serious professionals. Many people have traditional publishing backgrounds and massive portfolios. The only problem is that anyone can stumble upon your profile and send you a quote. Since the clients aren’t vetted, like they are with Gotham, you’ll get the typical low-baller who is absolutely shocked at your quote because he has no clue what good ghostwriting costs. However, they usually only send a request to 3 or 4 ghosts, and you aren’t at huge risk of being underbid for projects. I’ve already had three clients approach me on the platform (one was one of those appalled low-ballers), and I’ve only been on it a month tops. Again, free leads. I’ve also been asked to write a short course for them on character development, so that will definitely boost my brand.

5. Keep in touch with old clients

In my niche, it’s hard to put clients on retainer. Most clients don’t need a new book written or edited every month. However, that doesn’t mean I should just forget about my clients after I’ve delivered a manuscript. Writer’s write, and business men and women need to keep adding content to their brand. So, when things get slow, I reach out to old clients with a quick email.

In my line of work, you get to know some mildly personal things about your clients and their lives, so I like to check in and ask how such and such is going, ask about their last project (Have you found an agent? How’s self-publishing going?), tell them a bit about what’s new with me, and then ask if they have any new projects that I could help them with. I usually say something like, “I’m putting together my schedule for September and have a few slots open,” or, “September is looking a bit slow right now, so I wanted to let you know that I’m available to take on anything you can throw at me this month.”

I recently reached out to a publisher whose editing test I passed about two months back and landed two gigs because of it.

Also, remember to check in with clients even when you aren’t jonesing for new work. I try to keep in touch just to say hi every now and then. I also have a few editing clients who like to ask my advice on the publishing process, and I always make sure I respond to those inquiries within 24 hours. Not only is it just fun for me to help them out, it also makes me more valuable to them, ensuring I remain their go-to editor. I’ve also acted as a beta reader for one of my first and most talented proofreading clients (seriously, guys, check out Anne Leigh Parrish’s stuff; she’s an incredible writer), providing a review for the launch of one of her books that I had proofread before she shopped it out to publishers.

Go the extra mile for your clients, and they will not only come back to you but also provide you with referrals. Thanks to my frequent contact with my very first editing client, I just landed a three-book editing job. Act like a human being rather than a robot or a faceless name on an email, and you’ll maintain a strong network that provides you with fresh gigs with no pitching required.

Final Thoughts

Don’t abandon pitching altogether, especially if you’re just starting out. Even with a network in place, pitching is a great way to help you land enough new clients to reach a new income bracket. However, it’s never too early to take steps to build your network so that when you reach your income goal, you can sit back and use some quick, fun network connection strategies to keep bringing in new projects rather than forcing yourself into a mad pitch dash every month. Let’s face it, writing up a new blog post on something you love, chatting in Facebook groups, checking in with old beloved clients, and having clients come unprompted to you sounds way better than shooting a huge batch of blind pitches off into the ether with your fingers crossed, doesn’t it?

3 thoughts on “How to Establish and Maintain a Strong Freelance Network

  1. clairejones323 says:

    I really like the idea of building a strong network of clients. I’m slowly building a little network of writer friends which is motivating and helpful. I can see the logic to doing the same with cilents. It will take time, but it will be such a good thing when it’s done. I’ve just signed up for Gina Horkey’s pitching challenge, starting in September. I shall make an effort to starting building a network at the same time.

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