Want More Steady, High-Paying Clients? Find Some Freelance Friends
Freelance writers Kristin Harper, PhD, MPH, ELS and Mia DeFino, MS, ELS met at the annual conference of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) in 2016. Kristin, owner of Harper Health & Science Communications, LLC, had been freelancing since 2013. Mia was a new freelance medical and science writer.
The two freelancers began to get to know—and trust—each other. Kristin referred clients to Mia, helping her grow her new business. Mia helped Kristin focus on setting and achieving professional goals and told Kristin about new opportunities.
As their freelance friendship grew, Kristin and Mia helped each other manage their growing businesses and supported each other.
Growing Your Business with the Help of Freelance Friends
Kristin and Mia met while taking at an AMWA workshop on microediting. “We had both enrolled in back-to-back AMWA workshops. Meeting in that way told me a lot about Mia right away. I knew she took professional development seriously and was willing to spend time and money on improving her craft,” says Kristin.
While still at the conference, Kristin told Mia about a client that she thought might be a great fit for her. Soon after the conference, Kristin introduced Mia to the client, who hired her.
As Kristin and Mia got to know each other better, they realized that they had similar backgrounds and professional interests. “I could tell Mia had the experience and attitude that would make her ideal for a lot of the types of projects I work on, so I was happy to send jobs her way,” says Kristin.
And those referrals turned into new clients for Mia, because the clients trusted Kristin’s recommendation.
Getting and Giving Help
While Mia wasn’t able to give Kristin referrals back then, she helped Kristin in other ways. “I sent Kristin information that I thought might be helpful and we talked about things that have worked well for my business,” says Mia. She helped Kristin set professional goals and stay accountable for reaching them, and told her about new types of freelance medical writing work.
The two freelancers kept in touch mostly through email at first. Then they began scheduling monthly phone calls to discuss business and client issues, support each other, and celebrate successes.
Collaborating with Freelance Friends
Did Kristin lose business because she gave Mia referrals? No.
Did Mia slow the growth of her business by telling Kristin about some of the types of freelance work she did? No.
Helping Other Helps You Too
There’s plenty of freelance work for all of us, and collaboration with freelance friends always beats competition. Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this the abundance mindset (Habit #4: Think win-win, which focuses on collaboration and long-term results). People with an abundance mindset—like Kristin and Mia—believe that the success of others “adds to…rather than detracts from…our lives,” says Covey.
When Kristin needed help with a large project, she brought in Mia and another freelancer. “Had any of us tried to handle this work on our own, we would have felt stressed and short on time and the client wouldn’t be getting the attention they need. I love knowing that I have colleagues I can count on when it comes to tackling big, ongoing projects like this,” says Kristin.
Meeting Freelance Friends You Can Count On
My freelance friend Genevieve J. Long, PhD, PC is someone I can count on when I need help with a project. Genevieve is a freelance medical writer for top-quality patient education and health care marketing content that helps clients stand out.
Like Kristin and Mia, Genevieve and I met at a conference. We sat next to each other at a session on high-performance freelancing and just started chatting. After the conference, we kept in touch.
When I needed to sub-contract work on a large project, I turned to Genevieve and a few other freelancers. Genevieve did a great job, on time, and was easy to work with. She’s my go-to freelance friend when I need to sub-contract. I also brought her in as a partner on a large project for a client, because I knew that we worked together so well.
Genevieve and I regularly refer clients to each other—because we know and trust each other.
“Our story is a great example of why you should just talk to the people you meet at a conference,” says Genevieve. “You probably have similar interests, and you might make a friend and great colleague, like we did!”
The Easiest Way to Get Steady, High-Paying Clients
Getting more referrals is a key benefit of having freelance friends. The other way to get referrals is by satisfying current clients, which I’m not covering here. However you get the referrals, they’re the easiest way to get steady, high-paying clients.
“When clients come to you, you save a bunch of time on marketing. You don’t have to spend time convincing them to work with you, because somebody else has already convinced them that you are great,” says Kristin.
Trusting Relationships are Crucial
“Referrals come from a place of trust,” adds Mia. “The person referring you trusts you and that trust is apparent to the client.”
Trust is crucial. Clients want to work with freelancers that they trust or that someone they know trusts. This is especially important because when clients ask for referrals, they usually need help fast. “Normally, when a client asks for a referral they are in desperate need to get a project started, and they do not have time to vet freelancers for the job,” says Mia.
Building a Thriving Business on Referrals from Freelance Friends
Freelance medical editor Melissa Bogen, ELS has a small but strong network of other editors who she met through AMWA. “We refer work to one another all the time now, because we have gotten to know one another over the years and have worked directly with one another,” she says.
Getting to know other freelancers and building trusting relationships with them is key. “When people refer work to me, their reputation is on the line,” says Melissa. “They know that I’ll do a good job and make them look good in the process.”
But Melissa didn’t just get those referrals because she was a member of AMWA. As an active volunteer, she established a reputation as an expert in medical editing and a trustworthy freelancer. For example, she has made presentations at the AMWA annual conference on Microsoft Word tips and the scope of medical communications.
Volunteering for professional associations is the quickest way to get to know clients and colleagues and earn their trust. And it’s much easier than active networking for most freelancers, because you won’t have to “sell yourself.”
Getting and Giving Referrals
Melissa also refers plenty of work to other freelancers who she trusts. “If I have a full plate of work and clients contact me to do more editing, I give my clients the contact info for a short list of trusted editors,” she says.
Trusted freelance writers are on another list. Some are writers who Melissa has worked with. Others she knows well enough to have “an instinctual good feeling about their work.” Over the years, Melissa has learned to tell which freelancers are likely to be reliable.
Getting More Referrals from Your Freelance Friends
Never ever ask someone you just met for a referral. And never ask someone you don’t know well for a referral.
“It’s important to not ask people for referrals if you don’t know one another well,” says Melissa. “Be friendly and take advantage of opportunities to gather with freelancers. It’s fun to compare notes and share stories. Let the topic of referrals come up organically.”
Building trust and respect takes time, adds Kristin. “Showing up at the same professional meetings every year and making time to talk to colleagues—and communicating with them now and then during the rest of the year—is key,” she says.
And when someone does give you a referral, say thank you. If the referral turns into a freelance gig, send a small gift. Usually, I send an Amazon gift certificate, because then the person can choose whatever she/he likes best. If the referral doesn’t work out, I send a thank-you card with a personal note.
A freelancer Kristin referred work to asked her to pick her favorite charity—and donated money to that charity. “ I loved this idea so much I think I am going to borrow it,” she says.
When It’s Okay to Ask Freelance Friends for Referrals
It is okay to ask freelance friends for referrals as long as you know and trust each other. When you ask, be polite and reciprocate.
You can send your freelance friends an email once or twice a year to mention the type of work you’re looking for, with a little information about your background and experience and a link to your website (or LinkedIn profile if you don’t have a website yet).
If you see a freelance friend at a meeting or conference, talk about this. Then follow up with an email so your freelance friend has details about the type of work you’re looking for and a link to more information about you.
And always reciprocate. In your email or conversation, say that you’d be glad to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities that may be right for your freelance friend. Ask about the type of work he/she is looking for so you can follow through.
Other Ways Freelance Friends Can Help Each Other
Your freelance friends are important in other ways too. They can:
- Help you better manage your freelance businesses
- Support you in dealing with challenges and difficult clients
- Make you feel less lonely
- Celebrate successes with you.
Learn More About How Freelance Friends Can Help You
Learn More About My Freelance Friends
Kristin Harper, PhD, MPH, ELS
Mia DeFino, MS, ELS
Genevieve J. Long, PhD, PC