Foundations of a Successful Freelance Business
The Essentials: Portfolio, Reputation, Network
I have found that each of these areas – my portfolio, my reputation, and my network – all contribute to a healthy flow of work to my company. Clearly, a great portfolio is going to help you find clients, but you need a lot more than a beautiful portfolio to attract clients.
During my freelance career, I have only gotten one job where I didn’t already know someone in the organization. I have literally gotten all of my other clients and gigs through my network – people who know, like, and trust me. This network of people recommends me to others because of my reputation.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these areas.
First, you Need a Great Portfolio!
‘Well, obviously!’, you say. Your portfolio should be your best work presented professionally. Two questions that you should ponder are 1) What should I put in my portfolio? and 2) Where should my portfolio be so potential clients can find it? These questions have somewhat complicated answers that I’ll explore in future posts.
Briefly, your portfolio should contain a minimum of ten truly excellent pieces. These can cover the range of topics on which you work or be focused on an area that you would like to specifically advertise, i.e. botanical illustration in watercolor. Another technique I’ve used is to create custom portfolios for a potential clients.
Getting eyeballs on your portfolio is also very important for attracting clients, and there are a myriad of places you can display your portfolio. You can have your own website, place your portfolio on a service like Behance or Sciart, or even use a social media platform like Pinterest or Instagram.
Build a Reputation That Earns You Recommendations
Your reputation with your clients will determine if they will rehire you and recommend you to others. Beyond creating excellent work for your clients, it’s important to be professional, polite, and reliable. I also try to cultivate a sense of empathy with my client so I understand how I can help them. You’d be surprised how many people lack these qualities when dealing with clients!
Your reputation is built slowly over time through repeated interaction with your clients. Think about how long it takes you to get to know and trust someone. Remember that your clients are people too and need time to get to know and trust you.
‘Your Network is Your Net Worth’
Well, I don’t really believe that your network is all there is to your net worth. Your work and reputation are equally important. And if you have a great portfolio but a crappy reputation, your network is likely going to work against you.
But let’s take a look at why your network is important. Your network includes your clients, potential clients, influencers in your field, and peers. Clients who like working with you are more likely to hire you again and recommend you to others. Potential clients are people you know who you’d like to hire you. You need to build these relationships over time so that, when a potential client needs your skills, you’re the one they think of.
Influencers aren’t necessarily people who will hire you (though they might) but instead are people who know lots of people who are potential clients. Think of people like museum directors or acquisition managers at publishing companies.
Peers are also important for freelancers to network with. They can help you learn new techniques, offer moral support in the hard times, and recommend you for jobs.
I’ve created a list of questions for you to work through to get a better understanding of what you have right now in each of these three areas – portfolio, reputation, network. As you work through the questions, you should be able to pinpoint aspects of your business that you can focus on and improve.