If I had to pinpoint the most important step in my freelance career, it would be finding individuals to partner with that had no coding abilities.
When I got started, I didn’t know anyone who had design/development work. I began answering ads in my local classifieds and through that, met some people who worked as consultants to businesses. These were people who were experts in marketing or business development, who do not code websites. After getting to know these individuals, we often sparked up a friendship and made a deal that they would pass along my name to companies or individuals with website needs, and I would give them a percentage of the deals made (generally 10-15%). This isn’t as direct as bidding on projects from a freelancer site, but it can potentially result in very lucrative projects.
Sometimes these relationships fade, but it might be a good idea to put something in writing. You don’t have to get a lawyer involved, but a simple agreement with the project percentage breakdown may spark your contact to be proactive.
Finding your rainmaker is a tough task, and often takes time, but here are some ways to start.
Friends and Family
Start with the people you know. If it’s not direct family members, then move on to friends. Talk about how you are looking for web work and that if someone could give you a lead on a new client, you would pay for that lead. Most people don’t even realize that this kind of partnership could be had, so they may be more interested in working with you if this kind of plan is laid out.
The people you want to make this sort of deal with may not have a website themselves, but are well connected with other business owners that do. Offer them a percentage of a project, and it may spark their interest. The idea of making money just by giving an introduction may be attractive for them.
This should be part of your strategy anyway. Everyone has a local newspaper, but it’s more important to turn to websites. Most importantly: Craigslist. No matter where you live, there are certain rules to follow when manipulating Craigslist, and this is covered later on.
Occasionally through Craigslist you won’t be dealing directly with the client in question; it will be a consultant. Work with that consultant well on the first project, and you can develop a relationship. You may not get another project out of that consultant quickly, but when a new project does arise, you will be at the top of their list.
Overall, maintaining relationships is important. Do good work, communicate well and be easy to work with, and people will want to work with you again or recommend you.
One of the dirty secrets of working with clients is that in many cases, they won’t want to recommend you to others. This is out of pure selfishness, as they will want you to be available when they need you.
However, if you have worked on a project for someone and it’s pretty clear that there will not be a lot more work available in the future, have a conversation about referrals. Again, offer him something, such as 10% of referred projects. If the person had a good experience with you, they will see it as a no-brainer to make some money by referring others to you.
There is no easy way out here. You need to develop and cultivate relationships in the same way you develop and cultivate websites.
This is a long process, but the “you” in two years will really appreciate it. If you want a long-lasting and healthy freelance career, treat people well and do not burn bridges. Treat each client like he or she is your direct boss, and make sure you complete each project on time and to budget. If a client has long-term value to you and it is a very difficult working process, suck it up and get it done right. You will make up for the time you lost later.
Most importantly, if you agreed on a budget, stick to it. Unless you feel that the client is being extremely unreasonable, you should never ask for more money. The relationship and good feelings you acquire are worth a lot.