Freelancing: In Getting Work, Relationship Counts More Than Ever

Clients have a choice when selecting creative services: They can go the cheap route and buy a logo through a crowdsource or contest web site where they will likely select the lowest bidder, or they can commission a custom, targeted solution. Crowdsourcing creates a dilemma for freelancers who want to do meaningful work. Competition for freelance work is not only increasing, it’s being degraded as design thinking becomes under-valued and relegated to the level of banal doodles seeking a home. If clients become used to paying pennies for a mediocre design offered by the lowest bidder or for an off-the-rack piece of badly drawn clip art, the creative professions as a whole will be compromised.

Many freelancers who turn to crowdsourcing sites to acquire clients take the approach that getting something – anything – is better than nothing. And if they can win bids enough times, they may be able to eek out a living. However, this approach leaves everything to chance and puts the control of their careers in the hands of the crowd. This is not a great way to make a living. In fact, t’s a gamble.

Leaving your income up to chance is neither wise nor proactive. Giving others control over your livelihood while spending time creating work that may or may not be purchased or implemented is neither useful to you nor helpful in achieving your long term goals.

The best way to get new work is through relationship. As people get to know you, they trust you. Trust is one of the best compensations anyone can earn. Relationships and trust however, take time to build.

You build relationship by becoming involved with people. Joining chambers of commerce or service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions, or serving as a volunteer with cause-based organizations will help spread your reputation and create opportunities for conversation and trust.

Target people and businesses you want to work with. There’s the temptation to take just any project that comes along, but it’s better to be judicious in selecting work and clients that are a good fit. Not every project is the right one. Not every client is worth working with. So be selective. Being selective requires a foreknowledge of the kind of client you want to work with. Foreknowledge requires planning and evaluation.

Don’t be afraid to let people know you’re looking for work.

Use your social media connections. Don’t just link up with other designers but also with business owners, marketing pros and corporate executive who will be strategic for your professional growth—people who will refer you or would give you a project directly.

Ask for referrals from current and past clients. Don’t have a client yet? Ask for referrals from friends and family. Don’t be afraid to let people know you’re looking for work. Always follow up on the referral and be sure to thank the referrer, even if their referral doesn’t pan out. Expressing gratitude is golden, and you are sure to be remembered.

Whatever you do, do it with the long-term in mind. It’s tempting to focus on short-term revenue or getting the next project. Yet whatever you do, first determine where you want to go as a design practitioner. Where do you want to end up at the end of your time in the profession? What contributions do you want to make? Then break ground and build that foundation now. Be willing to give up some short-term fixes for the sake of your long-term goals. What strategic relationships do you want to establish now that will benefit you down the road?

If you have a well-designed strategy for building the right relationships, you will have a better chance for sustained success than if you focus on just getting the next project.