Ever feel like you’re lost in the woods trying to find freelance work?
Maybe you’re at one of those crossroads trying to land your first client. Or you’re in the middle of a career change.
Or maybe you’ve been writing for a while, but it’s time to find freelance work and new clients to move up and earn more.
When you’re trying to map out the best marketing route to find freelance work, it’s easy to get that deer-in-the-headlights gaze and get stuck.
But you can’t stand around and do nothing, or you could literally freeze to death if you can’t pay your heating bill, or at least build a campfire.
So what should you do? That’s what I had to figure out when I quit my job as a park ranger to take care of my special needs son and start freelancing.
I picked the easiest path to freelance success. And within two weeks, I had my first client, a one-year contract, and a steady stream of inbound leads. Here’s the route I took to get there:
Ask your network to help you find freelance work
Several years ago, I abruptly left my beloved career as a park ranger. It was the only option to care for my son’s newly diagnosed medical condition. Fortunately, he’s doing better.
After our daily lives became more routine, I began to think about returning to work—this time as a freelance writer.
But how was I going to find clients and start making money?
There’s a lot of different paths you can take to find freelance work like:
- Queries and LOIs (letters of introduction)
- Direct mail
- Cold calling
- Paid advertising
- In-person networking
- LinkedIn prospecting
Instead of wandering down a lot of different marketing paths, I decided to focus on one single strategy. Ask my former colleagues to help me find freelance work.
The best resource for freelance survival
As a park ranger, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to best manage available resources. And that got me thinking, your network may be the best resource you have to find freelance work. That’s because they:
- Know what it’s like to work with you
- Appreciate your talent, work ethic, and knowledge in a specific niche
- Can help other people in their network by sending you referrals
- Have writing projects they need help with
- Want you to be successful
When I started reaching out to former colleagues, I quickly discovered they were my biggest cheerleaders. Many of them immediately started brainstorming ways to get the word out about my freelance business.
If you’re trying to find freelance work, have you tapped into your resource of colleagues and contacts?
How to ask former colleagues for referrals
It’s a pretty basic concept. You catch up with former colleagues or professional contacts and ask a simple question: Know anyone who needs a freelance writer? Here’s what I did:
- Make a list of everyone you know. I listed former co-workers and managers, volunteers, interns and community partners I worked with as a park ranger. Who do you know?
- Do your homework. Before you start reaching out to the people on your list, do a little homework. Find out if someone has been promoted, changed jobs, retired, or had a baby, for example. Knowing a little about where they’re at now will help you reconnect when you do reach out.
- Practice your elevator speech. It’s a lot easier to do this when you’re talking to a friend or former co-worker than a total stranger. Before you start contacting people, create a message that makes it easy to explain what you do and how your contacts can help. For example, in some of my emails I explained I was doing writing work now and freelancing and wrote, “I can help you write the management plan you have coming up in 2018.”
- Pick your approach. Which of your contacts deserves a chat over coffee, versus an email or text? I used all three to reconnect with former colleagues, ask about their work and family life, and gave my closest contacts an update on how my son is doing.Here’s an example of an email I sent to one former colleague:
It’s been a few years. We worked together as members of the Wildlife Outreach Team from 2010-2012. You may recall I left the agency in 2014 to care for my son, who is doing amazingly well now.
Because his care is going so well, I decided to launch my own freelance writing and consulting business. And I can still be a Park Ranger for you when you need it.
I’ve heard you have an outreach plan getting underway and remember how overwhelming they were to fit in with everything else.
I’d love to work with you and the rest of the team to get a plan put together that meets everyone’s objectives without bogging you down.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Give my best to the critters.
- Include your contact information. I know it’s obvious, but don’t forget to do it. Include your website, blog, LinkedIn or profile page, as well as links to samples. If you’re meeting in person, bring business cards, a flyer, or brochure. Pass along extra business cards to make it easier for your contacts to send you referrals.
- Follow-up. If you don’t hear back from people in your network that you reach out to, follow up. Try sending another email or picking up the phone. People are busy and may not get back with you right away.
On the path to freelance success in just two weeks
I have to be honest. I wasn’t totally sure that reconnecting with former colleagues would help me find the kind of freelance work I was looking for. But it was a marketing strategy I was willing to try. And it worked.
Within two weeks, I received an email that said, “We are revising our wildlife management plan and would like assistance with writing and editing it. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in.”
Two phone calls later, and I had my first gig. It’s a project that will span my first year of freelancing and provides about 20 hours of work per week. I have a solid list of leads, more freelance projects in the works for 2018, and an invitation to a conference in the spring with former peers.
About 75 percent of my work has come from reconnecting with former colleagues, and I’ve only been freelancing for about six months.
If you want to find freelance work and grow your income, tap into your most valuable resource and just ask for their help. You may be surprised where the path will lead you.