Megan Braithwaite, a freelance communicator for the past five years, shares her experience finding clients through network recommendations, volunteerism, service trades, soft pitching and cold calls and emails. She describes the customer service model she uses to build strong, long-term client relationships and a freelance portfolio focused on your strengths. Megan was a panelist at CPRS Edmonton’s webinar about starting your own communications consulting business on October 14, 2020. You can rewatch the panel by signing in to the Bill Rees Learning Centre on cprs.ca.
COVID-19 has posed unique challenges in the global workforce, including for many, the transition to working from home. For some this may not be ideal, while for others, a dream.
I distinctly remember taking on my first freelance communications job. I was working on a package of stories for a former employer at my kitchen table while my new baby slept nearby. I felt like I had landed my dream job. It was then I decided freelance communications was my next step.
It has been five years since that moment, and the journey has been everything from fulfilling to frustrating, spurring my growth as a communicator and a person. I’ve been lucky to work in various industries, including health care, aviation, wellness and oil and fuel. Each new client has meant a new business and style, meaning I am able to constantly learn.
By sharing some of the lessons I’ve collected through my journey, I hope to help other communicators through their entrepreneurial transition to their dream job. In this post, I will share how I find the majority of my clients.
Find clients that fit your expertise and work style
When I began freelancing, I assumed most of my clients would come from applying to freelancing jobs online, my social media accounts or my website. I was wrong.
While I do get clients through those avenues, most come from client recommendations, connections in my freelance network, volunteer opportunities, service trades, soft pitching my personal network or cold-calling/emailing businesses I want to work with.
Cultivating a positive relationship with existing clients will get you more clients. To build this relationship and retain clients you can:
- Develop a customer service model to set clear boundaries and expectations surrounding your expertise and work you do, when and how you work, and your price list.
- Evaluate your work to show your value.
- Choose projects and clients that reflect your best work.
- Value your experience and expertise and charge what you deserve.
- Ask for feedback constantly (I send a brief survey to clients every three to six months and ask for feedback after each project is complete).
- Learn your client’s business, such as how they prefer to communicate with you and dates of annual projects and deadlines.
- Reserve time for clients that often need last minute work completed on a tight deadline.
- Add value. Consistently look for opportunities or potential improvements to pitch to existing clients. This shows you are invested in more than your given project, you are invested in their business and your relationship.
Recommendations from other freelancers
Building a network of communicators, designers, photographers, journalists, printers, videographers and copy editors is one of the most valuable things you can do for your freelance career. I actively search for people in our industry that excel and recommend them for projects, especially if they specialize in the business or task, or I don’t have time to take on additional work. In turn, they recommend me. This relationship ensures I am getting referrals to clients, businesses and projects that are a good fit, allowing me to produce high-quality work.
Keep a network of communicators and creatives that excel, so when a client asks for a recommendation you can send them to someone you will enjoy working with and partner with to produce quality work.
As a freelancer, you often work alone. This group of experts provides me with much-needed editing, second opinions and expert advice to elevate my work. I also grow my skills by providing these services to others.
Volunteering expands your social network, showcases your expertise and provides opportunities for you to grow skills before you add them to your list of services.
Many small local businesses are currently struggling as a result of the pandemic lockdown. They are eager to welcome volunteer communications support, especially with social media planning and management. I have found this to be a reasonable time commitment and a great way to build a reputation in the small business community.
Soft-pitching personal networks
Approaching someone in your personal network with a pitch for their business may feel strange at first, but by being curious about people, asking questions and spending time listening, many of these opportunities come up organically. I’ve met clients at a parenting group meeting, a dinner party and my husband’s work social. Looking for opportunities to improve a business, explaining your value, and then proving it through evaluation will earn you both a positive reputation and more client recommendations.
Trading communications services with businesses you frequent is an effective way to grow your portfolio, while getting services you already use. Since this is lower-risk than paying for communications work, businesses often welcome trades. Once you show them your value-add through evaluation, it often leads to more paid work. I suggest always measuring a dollar value through evaluation when completing a service trade. This can preserve the client relationship by confirming both parties see their services as matching in worth.
The cold call/email pitch
Actively searching for businesses or organizations I want to work with and evaluating their online communications is an important practice I’ve cultivated. I look for opportunities to pitch through cold calls or emails. If I see many opportunities and feel energized about sharing them, I will cold call or email, as the business and projects are likely a good fit for me. Actively working for clients I want means I have a client list and work I am passionate about.
A changing job market can be your opportunity
The changing job market combined with companies realizing the work-from-home model can be a successful work modality has created many opportunities for burgeoning communications freelancers. I hope by sharing my experience, you feel energized to take on some of these opportunities and grow your business.
Megan Braithwaite has been a freelance communicator for the past five years, working in healthcare, aviation, wellness and oil and gas. She began her career as a communicator in healthcare after graduating from Journalism and Public Relations at Grant MacEwan University. In 2020, Megan partnered with her husband, Dean Braithwaite, to create MPBraith, a full-service communications and train-the-trainer agency.