If you want to be successful, you need to be influential. Influence can be positive or negative, and everyone has influence. The key for success as creative freelancers is to be strategic in growing your influence. Decide what you want to accomplish, and do the things that will influence that outcome.
You don’t need to be influential with everyone, but you do need to have influence with some: specifically, your ideal customer or client.
Influence is the ability to affect something.
As a creative entrepreneur, you want to make an impact in your area or you will not remain in business for long. When you are influential it’s a given that you are also attractive to your clients. When you complete a job for a client, and you did it well, others will notice. If you were able to pull it off for Company A, you can certainly pull it off for Company B, and so on.
Influence is built over time.
By creating work for clients that helps them achieve their goals, you are building your own reputation. As you help others become successful, you create your own success in the process. John Maxwell, author, speaker and coach focusing on leadership and influence, wrote, “A successful person finds the right place for himself. But a successful leader finds the right place for others.”
As a creative entrepreneur, you understand the value of your talent and expertise. You provide specific services that fulfill the needs of specific clients. You want to be influential because you want to affect the outcomes for others. That non-profit client will not meet its campaign goals without the design of appeals and collateral. The restaurant will not attract a new clientele without strategically-designed website and marketing strategy. That craft brewery will not get its product into the marketplace without the photography that will help tell its story and convey the enjoyment of drinking their beer.
When you take this approach to your work, you will influence the decisions of others directly, and also indirectly through them.
Influence is necessary for your brand.
While your brand as a creative entrepreneur is not influence alone, it’s a starting point for building your reputation in your marketplace.
Influence has become the driving force in buying choices because there is so much competition in any market sector. This means that you are not the only creative expert in your field.
Your prospective clients have myriad choices of who they will work with. They’ll choose you if
You are easy to work with,
They can make a solid connection with you,
You give them value, and
They understand that you have their best interests at heart.
In short, they need to trust that you’re not all about you and advancing yourself.
In his influential book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Your current and prospective clients have the power to choose. Why will they choose to work with you? They will be more likely to if they understand how you can help them add value and promote their brands.
I’ve identified 5 key areas in which you can be strategic about building influence to attract clients:
1) Be authentic. Know the value of your talent and expertise. Where are you in relation to everyone else who does what you do? What are your strengths? In what ways do you stand out from the crowd? What is your value promise, and how do you deliver it?
In areas where you can create a sense of exclusivity, you increase your value. If you work with just a few clients, if you only work on retainer, if you only work with this or that type of project, you are building value. Become somewhat scarce. Don’t take on every project that comes your way. Select those projects that will move you forward.
Be willing to walk away from a project offer. Doing the right kind of work with the right kind of client increases your influence. Whether you are a specialist or generalist, stay within the flow of what you do best. Don’t roam into unfamiliar territory simply for the money. For example, I don’t do technical illustration. I don’t design apps. I don’t work with certain types of clients.
Doing the right kind of work with the right kind of client increases your influence.
Stay in your own lane, but be able to recommend others. Get to know people with expertise in the things you don’t do and recommend them. I worked with a guy who wrote PHP code for a website project. He was insightful, quick to turn things around, and not at all condescending to me as a designer. I’d work with him again any day, and recommend him. He has influence with me.
2.) Bring your value into your relationships. When your clients ask to work with you, or your colleagues ask you for advice, you have influence. A good approach to business relationships is to provide answers that are practical and provable.
Be others focused. The ancient principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive is still true. It is one of those natural laws that never changes. As you give to others, you will begin receiving.
I’m not talking about working for free, because another ancient principle also is true: The worker deserves his wages. Give value and receive value back.
What should you give away? Good advice. Alternative approaches. Insights. Information. Did you just get something in your Feedly or read something on Reddit that pertains to a client? Share it with them. The simple fact that you were thinking about them beyond the project speaks volumes and helps cement connection.
Consider the impact you are have on people. What is the logical outcome of this action or those words? Will your words build up or tear down.
Your influence is affected by how you talk about people to others. When a prospective client complains to me about other designers they’ve worked with, my warning monitor
3.) Follow through. Did you promise a first review on this date? Did you agree to find an answer for that question? Did you suggest meeting at noon for lunch next Tuesday? Do it. as much as it is up to you, keep your word. In a culture where lack of follow through is common, the simple act of doing what you say you will do creates positive surprise. People notice that, and remember you for it.
Although no one follows through on every promise made, if you build your professional and personal reputation around keeping your word, you will become known and trusted for it.
4) Listen carefully. When conversing with clients and colleagues, be attentive to what they are saying. Notice body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Look for clues that will give you deeper insight into their situation. Asking relevant questions, giving feedback and even summarizing what they’ve said shows that you were listening, which is huge. It demonstrates that you care about their concerns.
5) Become a peer, and then elevate the other person. Anytime a creative — or any person for that matter — is on the short end of a working relationship, they cannot impact the outcome. It’s all in the hands of the other person.
When you come into a working relationship as a peer — on the same level and equal footing — you have the ability to guide and control your outcomes. You are a businessperson working with businesspeople. Look for ways to encourage and inspire your clients. Display confidence in your ability to manage the project and help them achieve their goals. Serve them in such a way that you elevate them to new levels. Another timeless principle: Help others and you will be helped. Serve others well, and you will be well-served. Give, and it will be given back to you.
In summary, influence is not something you grab hold of. You cannot influence through coercion and build yourself at the same time. Influence is something you build moment-by-moment in relationships, earning the right to speak and advise.
If you want to lead, you need followers. Good leaders influence their followers by helping them, listening, encouraging, providing assistance, and solving their problems. Be a good example and you will attract followers who will bring others with them.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini, PhD.
Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others John Maxwell