Freelancing may seem lonely at times – no colleagues to gossip with next to the water cooler or mentors to ask for work advice.
But “the job” comes with another social perk – you can get acquainted, virtually or in-person, with a lot of incredible folks that you would have no way of meeting at that rigid desk job.
During the past four years, I had a chance to meet with really cool CEOs/CMOs, app developers, blockchain enthusiasts, budding entrepreneurs and bootstrapping startupers launching “the next big thing.” Most of them were my clients obviously…but not all of them. Some of the greatest people I met where part of the business I was working with, but not directly my managers or supervisors.
While it’s important to keep good tabs with your current and former clients, freelancers should also go beyond establishing a single point of contact within a company they are working for. Here’s exactly why.
I’ll speak from a writer’s perspective, but the same idea applies to a bunch of other freelance professions – marketing, design, development etc.
As a freelancer, it’s easy to lose sight of the “big picture.” You are contracted to do one thing e.g. draw a new logo or write regular blog posts. The manager provides you with all of the details to get started; you get the job done; forward an invoice and sign off that client.
Did you learn something from that job? Maybe. But most likely not.
And that’s the problem with freelancing. Most independent workers rarely take time to learn about the organization and the industry they are working for; though they have a perfect opportunity to get some unique “inside scoops.” That’s a shame, really.
Unlike traditional employees, freelancers have a unique chance to sneak-peek behind the scenes of different businesses and oftentimes, different industries. We have a unique chance to learn and spot industry-wide trends, “pick the brains” of a variety of experts, improving our professional knowledge and skills along the way.
So why should you invest time in connecting with more than one person? After all, it can be a big time commitment and require additional hours to wrap up the project and get your paycheck.
Consider the next perks of “integration”:
You raise your expertise. In the age of accessible online education, it’s easy to pick up any skill you like either for free or by paying for a premium ecourse/workshop/mastermind etc.
The wrinkle? It’s hard to be an expert when you miserably lack practical knowledge, as there’s still a large gap between how things work in theory and how they are actually practices by different businesses. Additionally, the recommended “best practices” rapidly get outdated these days especially in niches like online marketing or UX design.
So, if you want to have up-to-date industry knowledge, you should be networking with practitioners’ aka your client and their team members, rather than solely studding the books.
You can create unique sales offers for clients. At some point, you will start noticing that a lot of businesses in industry X tend to struggle with problem Y. They may not be even aware of it (yet), but you can spot that problem a mile away (because see reason A - you have deep industry knowledge). So why shouldn’t you point it out and offer to fix it before anyone else does?
You can command better rates because you are 100% worth it. You possess the latest knowledge and you are happy to network with the new team to get the missing pieces of the puzzle; you are easy-to-onboard and manage and you do the job exactly the way it needs to be done.
It’s easier to score great referrals as you are now acquainted with a lot of more people, who also know other industry people, who, in turn, may benefit from your services.
Case point: As a writer, you are often asked to create content of a variety of topics, even within your niche. You are good at doing research, but by no means, you are a know-it-all expert. So you have two options here:
- Spend more time researching and figuring out certain things by yourself.
- Or get in touch with some subject matter expert on the client’s side and pick their brain instead.
In case with the latter, you should still “do your homework” and come prepared, but the time you’ll spend on researching will decrease significantly. Also, you may need to and learn how to conduct effective interviews with experts, so that you really benefit from the session with an expert rather than end up being even more confused.
Bonus point: if your job also includes promoting the published content afterwards, the process will be so much easier! The team (or some of it) already knows you and would be happy to share the newly published content on their social media. In fact, a lot of companies even have employee advocacy programs in place that incentivizes in-house employees to participate in all sorts of company’s activities.
The same approach can be extended to other freelance professions:
- UX designers can talk to CX/customer support/product managers to understand the target users and then ask someone from the team to beta-test their mockups.
- Email marketers can “network” with customer support/sales team to understand better what’s worked or not in the past and how customers respond to different kinds of offers/pitches.
- Freelance developers are usually pretty good at collaborating with others, but they could go one step further and say network with CX/support for beta-testing the product and helping to determine the common bottlenecks, bugs and usability issues.
As mentioned earlier, in-effective collaboration and communication can be a huge time sink. If you are not getting paid hourly, the email back-and-forth can negatively impact your earning potential. There are a few quick tricks you can use to maximize your “networking” efforts:
Share an agenda/questions before scheduling a talk, so that the other party comes prepped. Also having an agenda helps to avoid getting the conversation sidetracked, though by no means it should be rigid.
Of course, you will need some video conferencing tools for conducting those talks - there are plenty free and paid options. After switching between the standard ones (Skype and Google Hangouts), I’ve settled into a nice groove with ClickMeeting. It’s a paid tool, but well worth the dollar if you tend to host a lot of virtual meetups as it comes with great extras such as meeting recordings; whiteboards (if you plan to present something); calendar sync and reminders. The quality of the connection is much better that what Skype’s been offering lately, too.
Alternatively, if you need a no-frills free software, try Appear.in. It hosts decent video/audio only calls and only requires the organizer to register an account with them.
To collaborate with more than one person, share out a survey via email. Don’t get everyone on call or in one email thread as things will get messy for sure. Use Typeform to collect all the data you need. The tool allows you to create an attractive survey with a mix of open-end and fixed-choice questions; batch-send it to everyone and manage the information effectively.
Stay in touch with the team, even after the project is over. If your job is done and you have no further commitments with a company, it doesn’t mean you should just move on for good. Make sure you stay in touch will all the awesome folks you’ve “met”.
Be-friend them on LinkedIn, Slack or Twitter as Facebook may be too personal. Keep their emails and be sure to pop-up with some friendly, non-sketchy messages once in awhile, especially if you hear about the person’s recent accomplishment. Don’t be shy to reach out for some help/advice and be sure to return the favor whenever you can!
These are the pillars of effective collaboration that do not require much time or regular commitment but can help you truly integrate into an organization and make a positive two-way impact.