Ever wonder what it’s like to make the transition from full-time employee to freelance consultant? In this installment of “From Full-time to Freelance” you will learn the importance of networking and building relationships when sourcing your first clients. Throughout this series, you will get a first-hand account of the journey and advice of one millennial who recently made that leap.
How do you get clients?
It’s a fair question. In order to consult, you to have have a service to offer. My path is perhaps backgrounds in that being a helpful person led me to various volunteer and freelance opportunities. Rarely, did I equate my assistance with potential income. A LinkedIn recommendation and a “thank you” sufficed. To understand how I have clients now, it is important to reflect on certain habits and behaviors I developed over the past few years.
When I left my first job (post-college) in the summer of 2012, I had no immediate plan to make a living. After a brief international trip, I was without a stable income except for the 401K, which I eventually cashed out. I was interested in social media at the time and business school. The latter cost money, so I decided to invest in the former by dabbling with platforms like Twitter, reading blogs and interning. Over the course of a few months, I worked virtually with a now-defunct startup and later with a Caribbean restaurant, which later closed, due to its low-traffic location.
Nothing tangible developed from the startup gig, which was unpaid, but working with an restaurateur, who also was a single mom, was a positive experience. We’ve stayed in touch, even when I moved to New York, and she recently approached me to help her with some marketing for one of her new business ventures. Regardless of the outcome, it pays to stay in touch because former bosses, coworkers, church members can become potential clients.
Aside from the numerous opportunities I took on, including interning at an agency and an education startup, I networked like a madwoman. My philosophy involved three principles, mostly because of lack funds:
- If the event is free, attend and meet as many individuals as possible.
- If the event is not free, find a way to attend without paying either by volunteering or covering it as press.
- If the event is not free, it must be less than ten dollars for me to attend.
Eight out of ten times, I would fall into the first and third options. I volunteered at several events and conferences–from cleaning up to live-tweeting, I did anything to avoid paying. Unintentionally, I also built a network of supporters, colleagues and mentors. Little did I know that I would start to see the same faces, particularly at tech events, as the scene in the D.C area was starting to bloom.
Whenever possible, I collected and exchanged business cards, but more importantly, I followed up or engaged with attendees and influencers on Twitter and found them on LinkedIn. I was not sure of where the relationship would lead, so at the very least, I wanted their contact information. One person that I met during my run of networking events, ended up being a client. We had a barter agreement and therefore nos financial transactions took place but at the end of the digital marketing work I did, I had a portfolio piece and a LinkedIn recommendation. Not bad.
These days, I do not attend as many networking functions, but I make an effort to be at events that may lead to new clients or the chance to work with unique entrepreneurs and creatives. I have been fortunate enough to book at least two clients from events this year. Sometimes, showing up is half the battle (and part of the victory.)
The residual effects of networking are also pretty powerful. One example came full circle in early 2014. I could not afford to pay the event ticket to a blogger event at Microsoft’s office in downtown D.C. in the spring of 2013 but really, really wanted to go because I knew there would be a room full of black women bloggers and entrepreneurs. Most, if not all, the previous events I attended were not racially diverse. I would have begged to attend this event except I thought about providing value by volunteering in a strategic way.
Since I was more comfortable with Twitter by that time, I offered to live-tweet and do a blog post. My pitch worked! From that event, I got to meet the founder, who planned the event, and her team. A year later, that same founder, a black women in the blogging and consulting business, referred me to my first client, a fashion stylist looking to promote her first book.
Long story short, I like building and maintaining relationships. Networking is not all bad, nor selfish. This mentality and the subsequent habits I fostered have helped me earn organic leads and strong bonds. In the near future, I may try targeted ads, optimize my website and the like to expand my reach but I certainly will keep doing what works, and that’s networking.
ijeoma is the founder & chief consultant of ijeoma & co., a strategy-first digital consultancy supporting entrepreneurs and communities of color in creative industries. Say hello on twitter @ijeomasnwatu.