The 3 things you need to know about yourself… to land a great client
I’ve covered a lot of elections and over the years I’ve heard all sorts of strategies for how to win. There is one simple truth that has stuck with me. It was offered up by one of New Brunswick’s card-carrying characters – political operative, cabinet minister and now senator, Percy Mockler. He likes to say that the most important part of a campaign is what happens at a voter’s door: you have to knock on it and ask for their support.
Running a business is a lot like that too. You’ve got to ask people to hire you.
For a lot of us, self-promotion makes us uncomfortable, particularly if our work involves creating something that carries a piece of ourselves within it. As you’ll often hear an artist say in an interview; ‘I like to let the work speak for itself’. Ask me about the topic of one of my stories and I’ll happily blather on about what I did to get the story, the stuff I left out and my opinion of the situation. But ask me what I think of my work? I’ll stammer, look at the floor and mumble something about being so fortunate to make a living doing what I love.
This is no way to land a big contract.
The freelance marketplace is competitive. To get the best clients, you’re going to need to set yourself apart from others in your field. To do that, you’ll need to provide a very specific definition of what you do and why.
Ask yourself these three questions:
1. What am I good at?
The answer is not writing. Or graphic design. Or photography. Or strategic counsel. That’s your title. You need to define what specific skills you have within these larger categories. That will help you tailor your business pitches and it will help potential clients determine if you’re what they need.
For instance, I emphasize my research and analytical writing skills. Could I write you a radio jingle? Sure, but I’m probably not the best person to choose if you want light-hearted banter. Need to present a strong point-of-view? I’m the one you want to call.
My husband and business partner Michael Hawkins has a similar approach. He’s a photojournalist and presents himself as the person to call if you want magazine-style photography. Need a wedding photographer? Better keep looking.
2. How does my experience inform my current skill set?
The old resume format with its bullet points and categories for ‘education’, ‘work experience’ and ‘volunteer activities’ is of little use to you in the freelance market because it doesn’t actually provide potential clients with the information they need. Under that old model my time at the Telegraph-Journal would look something like this:
- business reporter (1997-1999)
- political reporter (2000-2001)
- political columnist (2001-2005)
- National Newspaper Award (1998); Atlantic Journalism Award (2003)
Now what does that tell anyone? Now consider this description form my LinkedIn page:
My roots are in journalism and the craft of storytelling for a broad audience. As a business reporter and provincial affairs columnist I broke national stories about ICT innovations, energy developments, Aboriginal rights and the ambitions of the Maritimes’ political class.
Far more information about who I am and what I can do.
LinkedIn is an excellent tool for learning how to present yourself in this networked business world. If you’re not on LinkedIn, get on it. If you are on it – use it! Update your profile so it reflects the LinkedIn style. There are loads of sites, such as SocialMedia Examiner and Social Media Today with LinkedIn advice. Like much of the web, it is practical and easy to do.
3. What tasks match my skills?
Once you’ve identified your skills, you’ll be able to choose the tasks you want to perform. A little web research can help. I do a lot of my research these days via Twitter. I use it to follow talented people and opinion leaders in my skill set to watch how they position themselves in the marketplace. Twitter is my personalized newsfeed on the changing world of journalism, online communications and public affairs. I use that information to identify trends and turn them into business opportunities. I also use Facebook, but to a lesser extent.
Often the language of the corporate world is different than the language of creative spaces, such as newsrooms and design studios, or public institutions, such as universities and government offices. For instance ‘white paper’ has a very different meaning in the tech world, where it is a long-form marketing document, than in government, where it is a research-dependent policy paper. Do some research on the various tasks available to freelancers.
Odds are, if you’re new to freelancing, you haven’t performed many of these tasks – but you likely have the skills to do it. Don’t be afraid to reach out into your local freelance community to get some pointers – in my experience other freelancers are usually happy to help.
Now you’re ready to promote yourself to potential clients. Just look them straight in the eye and dare to ask ‘can I have your business, please.’