Welcome to the third and slightly delayed final edition of So You Want to Go Freelance. In this post, I'll be providing some advice on finding clients. Considering where your work will come from is one of the things that keeps freelancers (and potential freelancers) up at night. Income uncertainty is probably the greatest barrier to making the leap into freelance work, which is why I think that this is probably the most important of the three installments posted here. Although nothing that I write below will be Earth-shattering, I hope that hearing it from someone who has been successful will give you the confidence to go out and try it yourself.
1) Former Employers - No one knows the quality of your work like your former employers, and they should be your first call when you are thinking about going freelance. If they were sorry to see you go, then they might jump at the chance to work with you again even if only as a contractor. You should also consider whether your current employer might allow you to stay on part-time or through a retainer during your transition from full time to freelance. This type of arrangement provides you with some guaranteed income, and makes the transition easier for your employer. It's a win-win.
2) Former Employees and Colleagues - Marketing Research is truly an incestuous little world. People that you worked with at one employer end up moving to the client side or a different supplier or a marketing department somewhere else. If you haven't kept in touch with them, look them up! Once you are free of the grind of full time work, lunch can be your most productive time. Invite anyone and everyone who might need your services out to lunch, and for goodness sake, buy them lunch! I believe that about 80% of my clients have come through this route.
3) Networking Resources - When I started trying to move to freelance work, I joined a number of different networking groups, including the National Association of Professional Women and the American Marketing Association. I honestly did not find them to be of much value to me because most people attending the events had no idea what marketing research is. So, I shifted my focus to networking groups in the industry. Finding very few relevant groups in Atlanta, I decided to begin a chapter of Women in Research (WIRe) here. The work that I do for WIRe hasn't netted a bunch of new clients, but it keeps me in touch with what is going on in the industry and helps me to grow my network locally.
4) Conferences - Now that you are on your own, writing that check to attend an expensive conference is going to sting. I would not recommend spending the money on travel and conferences unless you are looking for national clients and already have contacts that are attending. In such a large setting, it's difficult to compete with the big agencies that have booths and a pack of associates roaming the halls.
5) Online Resources -LinkedIn is your new best friend. You may want to even upgrade to their Premium package so that you can have access to more contact information. Remember, you can write off expenses like this in your taxes, and it's a pretty cheap way to network. But don't think that you can just lurk around on LinkedIn and be successful. You need to be part of the conversation so begin posting your own updates, comment on others, etc. Most important, get familiar with the "Groups" section of LinkedIn. This is where you are going to find other like-minded individuals. The group pages are where you should be spending the bulk of your time because you know that you are talking to people who are in your industry.
Finally, you might be wondering if you should start a blog like this one. Well, do you like sitting down and writing for an hour or so everyday? If no, then don't start a blog. You'll never keep up with it, and it will cause you undue anxiety. I write this blog because I love to write, it gives me an outlet when there's no one at home to talk to, and it gives me unique content to post online. I don't think that I get many views here nor have I ever really gotten new work from my website. I suppose that it gives me a level of legitimacy to have the website up and the blog going, but I probably could do just as well without it.
So, there you have it. All of my wisdom on going freelance in three long blog posts. Good luck!