The Introvert’s Guide to Finding Clients as a Freelancer | Monika Kanokova | Skillshare

The Introvert’s Guide to Finding Clients as a Freelancer

Monika Kanokova, Community & Content Strategist

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15 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Introduction

      2:44
    • 2. Project Task: Write a Plan for Yourself

      0:31
    • 3. Tap into Your Contacts

      1:45
    • 4. Start a Mailing List

      1:16
    • 5. Have a Blog on Your Website

      1:30
    • 6. Publish Case Studies Online

      1:52
    • 7. Update Your Social Media Channels

      0:37
    • 8. Use Online Job Platforms for Freelancers

      1:23
    • 9. Have a Vision

      1:49
    • 10. Have the Right References

      6:05
    • 11. Make a Case for Yourself

      3:38
    • 12. Reach Out to the Right Person

      3:04
    • 13. Be Open About Your Passions

      2:11
    • 14. Sometimes, There Are No Clients

      1:43
    • 15. Final Words

      0:37
24 students are watching this class

About This Class

Being a freelancer comes with many rewards and many challenges. One of the most challenging things about freelancing is finding new work. 

It’s the nature of freelancing that you work on projects for a limited amount of time. Even if you usually work with retainer clients, you most likely need multiple clients to make a full-time income and to be able to put money aside for retirement. 

I’ve been freelancing as a community strategist for the past six years. I’ve worked with clients like Kickstarter, Virgin Money via Hanzo Studio, CIEE, and even the Marshall Fund of the United States.  

Additionally, I’ve written three guides for creative freelancers, which have been recommended by some of my favorite online magazines, including Girlboss, 99U, and Creative Boom. These books have also led to the opportunity to give a TEDx talk, which I’m super proud of. 

In this class, I’ll discuss some general strategies for finding new clients and will also share some stories about how I got to work with the brands I’ve worked with. 

I hope this class will inspire you and help you make a game plan that feels easy and authentic to execute.  

For some of you, you’ll hear things that might seem like no-brainers to some. But, to others, those same things might be an utterly new approach to looking for clients. 

To provide the full spectrum of strategies, I’m introducing the simpler techniques at the beginning of this class and will then share how I do cold acquisition and pitch clients I’m not connected to in any way later on. 

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, there might be some videos you can skip and others you’ll need more time to work through. So, please get a pen and paper and get comfortable. 

Just a side note about the title – I am an ENFP based on the Myers-Briggs personality s test, which they say is the most introverted extrovert. While I’m confident about my skills, I’m never comfortable being the center of attention. :) So while I’m mostly perceived as extroverted, I definitely don’t feel like it on the inside. In other words, my tips may help you whether you identify as more extroverted or introverted. 

What’s important to me is that everyone who watches this class finds something useful. 


Transcripts

1. Introduction: Being a freelancer comes with many rewards and many challenges. One of the most challenging things about freelancing is finding new work. It's the nature of freelancing that you work on projects for a limited amount of time. Even if you usually work with retain clients, you most likely need multiple clients to make a full-time income and to be able to put money aside for retirement. Hi, I'm Monica, and I've been freelancing as a community strategist for the past six years. I have worked with clients like PicsAta, Virgin Money, Wire Harness Studio, CIEE and others. Additionally, I've written free guides for creative freelancers, which had been featured in some of my favorite online magazines, including Go Balls and 99 You and Creative Boom. These books have also led to the opportunity to give a TEDx talk, which I'm obviously super proud of. In this class, I will discuss some general strategies to finding new clients and we'll also share some stories about how I got to work with the brands I've worked with. I hope this class will inspire you and help you make a game plan that feels easy and up and quick to execute. Of course, for some of you, you'll hear things that might seem like no-brainers, to some, but to others, those same things might be an absolutely new approach to looking for clients. To provide the full spectrum of strategies, I'm introducing the simple techniques at the beginning of this class, and golden share of how do called acquisitions and pitch clients. I'm not going to in any way later on. If you've been freelancing for awhile, there might be some videos you can skip and others you'll need more time to work through. Please get a pen and paper and get comfortable. I should probably say something about the pedal. Just a side note, I'm an ENFP based on the Myers & Briggs personality test, which they say is the most introvert to extrovert. While I'm confident about my skills, I'm never comfortable being the center of a pension. Well, I'm mostly perceived as extrovert, but I definitely don't feel like it on the inside. In other words, my tips to help you whether identify as more extroverted or more introverted, but you'll probably find different things more useful. What is important to me, however, is with everyone who watches this class, finds something useful. Let's get started. 2. Project Task: Write a Plan for Yourself: I have uploaded a template you can fill out. Make sure you use the student project space to ask me questions or get feedback from others who watch this class. They might even have the context you need to reach your goal. If you have any questions or feedback, please don't hesitate to reach out or share it in the class project. I respond to all my students here on Skillshare. I'm honestly already really looking forward to reading who you would like to work with this year. 3. Tap into Your Contacts: I started freelancing in November 2014. Freelancing wasn't necessarily something I had been working towards for months. It just made the most sense for me back then. I had just left my job at a start up and I needed to establish myself fast. A I created a simple back slide using spare space. There I met out what services I offered, and I use it as a space to show my references. Most of my work references at the time, there are projects I had worked on while working full time at different companies. I knew I needed to replace those references quickly. Once I knew what services I could offer, I looked for older contacts I had on my social media icons. I created the list of people to reach out to, to tell them I was now freelancing, and what they could hire me for. I e-mailed 65 contacts, and three people e-mailed back and offered me work. That is pretty much how I kicked off my career as a freelance consultant. Six years later, emailing people is still something I do regularly. Whenever I run out of projects, I e-mail, or call people I would like to work with the most at the moment, and let them know I am available. In my e-mail, I usually say what I could help with. I also mention my recent references, to let them know what I've been up to. We are all busy and people might not always have you on their radar for projects. It's important to reach up and remind people of your services. Ideally, you would also reach out to catch up, and not just whenever you need work, but that's of course another story. 4. Start a Mailing List : When you visit my website, you'll see that I invite people to sign up for a mailing list. I use this mailing list to update my subscribers about the projects I've worked on. I usually email them articles and case studies I've written about my work. Just like with every mailing list, the more regular and personally you are and you use letters, the more successful you'll be with your mailing list. There are a lot of resources on how to write a good newsletter. I have found that people responds to personal stories. They appreciate good reading material. They like things that are useful to them, even if they don't want to hire you for a project right away. So any sort of learning, any sort of fun fact might be really useful. To grow your mailing lists, you can mention the sign-up page in your blog posts and any guest posts you write. You can also add new clients you started working with to your list, if you ask them for constant up front. That's especially important in the European union as given GDPR. Of course, you can add a sign-up pet to your website and even in your email signature. 5. Have a Blog on Your Website: When I first started freelancing, I started writing a monthly update for my blog. In this update, I summarize what I've worked on in the previous month. On one hand, writing these articles has helped me reflect on the work I've done. It has kept me comfortable when I don't have any paid client projects. On the other hand, I've been able to say I'm available for project without feeling I'm screaming it all over the Internet. The great side effects of these monthly blog posts has been that over time, I have filled my website with a lot of keywords. After five years of blogging consistently, the number of prospective clients who finds me via Google has increased noticeably. For example, I started working with the German Marshall Fund of the United States because they found my website on Google, and like it. It's one thing to have website, but unless you update it regularly, no one's going to find it. It might also feel outdated, and irrelevant to people if they don't see new content. Search engines definitely reward well maintained websites with a higher search rank. While having a blog might seem like a lot of work, it also pays to have one. If you are a more visual person, try to upload pictures and some bullet points that capture the essence of your projects rather than reading our own blog posts, but just make sure to update your website regularly. 6. Publish Case Studies Online: Do good work and tell people is the first rule of finding work. Whenever you finish a project, you should schedule a day or two to document what you've worked on. Depending on the business you are in, your case studies might feel very visual. So you might schedule a photo shoot. With other industries, it might be handy to write down what you've done and how your clients have benefited from your work. I'm sure you can find enough resources online that explain in great detail how to write a good case study. Just a few tips I would like to share with you, always publish your case study on your website, but publish them on a second platform where people like you published theirs. For visual great tips that might be Behance, while marketing consultants might want to publish their case studies on LinkedIn or Medium. If you are able to publish some numbers that prove your success do so. If however, you're under a non-disclosure agreement, otherwise known as an NDA and feel like you can't talk about your work, an easy fix is to not mention your client's name. You can keep your case study more general and just focus on how you've contributed to a project. One agency that I've worked in the past has, for example, always used warning that enabled them to talk about their work. They would say one of the biggest airlines or our client, an industry leader in aviation, that way they would still be able to talk about their work just not break their NDA. Case studies are also great confine for your newsletters and come in handy when you are pitching new projects too. 7. Update Your Social Media Channels: Social media is a great tool to remain visible. Depending on your industry, different social media channels might be more relevant for you personally. When people ask me what social media channels they should use to promote their work, I always say they should pick one network where it feels natural to them to use it, and ideally one where people in their industry share their work as well. In the past, I've hired a number of illustrators because I find them on Instagram or Behance. So I can only recommend maintaining an online presence on a platform that feels authentic to you. 8. Use Online Job Platforms for Freelancers: While I personally don't have any direct experience looking for projects on recruiting platforms for freelancers, I feel like I should at least mention this as a possibility so that you can look for other resources here on Skillshare created by people who have had good experience using these platforms. The reason I don't like using these platforms is that it puts freelancers in direct competition with others, because people don't know you or have any sort of experience working with you, your passion and the quality of what you can deliver. Price only becomes a major deciding factor, even though under different circumstances it might not play such a big role. Especially because some of us live in cheaper places, you might get into a competition you might not be able to win if you live in a city where the costs of living aren't as cheap as they are in other places. If you watch this class so far, you have noticed that in our past videos, I've explained how to maintain your visibility and how to differentiate yourself from others by sharing your work, and working progress, and publishing it on relevant platforms. In the following videos, I'll explain a more effective way to get new clients and what you need in order to find success. 9. Have a Vision: As a freelancer it's important to know how your work, your insights, and your creativity can benefit a client. The more specific you are about your vision for a specific client, the easier it will be to convince a client to work with you. Whenever you run out of projects, it's time to sit down and reflect on who you would actually like to work with and why. Answering the following questions might take awhile, but it's well worth the time spent thinking. Okay. Let's start. What companies are you interested in working with? Write down small brands, big brands, local brands, brands you think are cool, and brands that have the same values as you. Who would you like to see benefit from your work? Who would you like to target with your efforts? Which of the brands you've written down have the same target group. If you now have a couple of brands on your list, well done. If not, go back to the first question and think of the brands that serve the target groups. You would like to see benefit from your work and write them down. What would you like to do for every one of the brands you have noted? What gaps can you fill for these brand? The more specific you are about how a brand could benefit from working with you, the better your chances are of getting your foot-in-the-door. If you have a vision for a brand and the skills to execute your vision or a team you could execute your vision with, the more likely it is you dream client will be open to working with you. I'll tell you some stories about this in the next video. 10. Have the Right References: While having to write references is a wise advice, it's not always a given that you have them. However, if you've ever read any of the other work I've published, you'll know I've always said that you can create the right references beside projects. I have a lot of Skillshare classes here on that subject as well. I learned how important it is to have the right references at the start of my freelance journey. This is the story of how Kickstarter became my client. As I already said, I've been in freelance in November 2014 with an email I sent to 65 contacts. One of the projects I landed that was okay because it paid money, and they needed my help immediately. However, it wasn't necessarily a dream client, and the whole situation was quite rough at least back then. I kept wondering if this was what freelancing was like, so I decided to ask people I admire that are very successful in their businesses, and as freelancers. On one hand, I wanted to figure out what my options were, but I also wanted to know the steps I needed to take, and to feel good about my situation as a freelancer. I asked the number of amazing women if they would talk to me about their early days of self-employment because I found so much value in what they told me. I decided to turn what I learned into a book. Back then, I decided to hire an illustrator so that if the book wasn't good, there goes with my self-confidence about my work, anyway. Because of the illustrations, it would at least be a very beautiful book. My idea for the title was this year will be different, so I knew I had to launch right at the beginning of January. But remember, this was at the end of November. So clearly, writing and publishing a book in just one month, especially because I had never done anything like that before, was an insane idea. Surprise, surprise, around Christmas, Evalina, my wonderful illustrator got sick, she couldn't meet the deadline, and I thought to myself, "How could I launch a project that's 80 percent done, but not completely done just yet?" That's how I thought of Kickstarter. At the time, Kickstarter wasn't available in Germany or Austria, but I was lucky because my partner lived in New York, and I called him to ask if it would be possible for him to set up a Kickstarter campaign for me. Fortunately, he agreed, and so on January fourth, 2015, I launched my first Kickstarter campaign. It was a great success with supporters from 44 countries, which I would say was mainly due to the launch timing, and Kickstarter's staff begun the project. About a month later, I headed to New York to produce the book with the money I got from the campaign, which was on a US bank account, and it was a super busy month. But somehow I managed to sign, pack, and ship all the books. In the last week that I was in New York, I reached out to someone I knew at Kickstarter, who had previously lived in Berlin, I wanted to give her a copy of the book as a thank you, and I had no idea that in the same week, the company had decided to role out in Europe. She mentioned over coffee, they were looking for someone to help them. Lived around in Germany in a few months, and I simply replied, "I could do that." My work experience was in community building, and I had done a successful Kickstarter campaign myself. It was, as you can imagine, a match made in heaven, even though I still had five interviews to make sure I already was. Now, what's important about this whole story is that I had the perfect reference because of a self-initiated project. I truly believe that you don't have to have work experience to prove you are capable of something, you can always increase your chances by initiating projects that will eventually become your references. But of course, the work you have done for your past employers matter too. For example, then working at somewhere.com, the startup that no longer exists, I used to write [inaudible] newsletters to the community. Years later, someone I knew flew to somewhere community, was working on a project for Virgin Money, and they needed someone to write the automated emails to the student who signed up. Because they remembered those emails that I wrote years and years before that, they called me, and a few weeks later, I took on more and more responsibilities for the project, and then worked with the team for a year, and until Virgin Money got sold to another bank. So whether you have work experience or not, there's always a way to make sure you have relevant references. If positioning yourself for self-initiated projects is something you would like to look into in more detail, I'm happy to say I've recorded a Skillshare class on this topic too. From my experience, people ask to work with me because they've seen or heard that I've done something, or because someone told them that I have. So whether it's pay-client projects, or self-initiated projects, having done something, anything really will always lead to new work, and new project request. You just have to let people know you have work experience that's relevant to their business goals, and could help solve their challenges. 11. Make a Case for Yourself : For keen market thing a lot of my projects start with that with extensive keynote that's filled with campaign and strategy ideas. These ideas might be bred for light fact, that they might also be related to a specific industry or an industry in a region and so on. Now, it's time to give you over cheap out again so that we can look at your answer to the last question about the gaps you can identify for a prospective client you would like to work with, because once you know that gaps, it's easier to make a case for yourself. Here is how I have approached this in the past and what I've done that helped me get clients. So in 2017, I decided I wanted to work with hospitality businesses and so I sat down and created a trend that explaining how successful hospitality businesses use social media. I published it on my website and used it whenever I reached out to hospitality brands I wanted to work with. This initiative didn't lead to anything immediately because while it was a good conversation starter, I didn't have any direct references for work in this field. However, about a year later, someone who read that report reached out to me and asked if I would like to work on a hospitality community building project. So while it didn't work immediately, it eventually did. The much more successful approach to making a case for yourself is when you are more specific with who you are targeting. In 2019, I found company I read a lot and decided I wanted to work with them. I was surprised they were not known in Germany and so I wanted to understand why that was. I found that they were hiring for a business development manager in Germany and despite not fitting the role specifically, I decided to email their head of marketing to inquire if they would be interested in working with someone with my skill set. Having worked on projects for Kickstarter and Virgin Money, I had the right references and could ramp up something to make a case for myself. First, I saw a lot of people from the company check out my LinkedIn profile before the head of marketing finally e-mailed me back two days later. He said he would be interested in scheduling in person and made an appointment with me and so I set down for a couple of days and created the market analysis to prove I understood their situation. I wanted to have something tangible as the basis for our conversation and eventually I booked at trying to get to go to very bare and they asked me to work with them even during our meeting. So while it usually makes sense to only start investing your time in a pitch deck once you get an appointment. It's important to at least have an idea of what you can use to convince a prospective client before they know you exist. Having some basic information like data or a competitor analysis might help you draft an email and peak interest in your work and you as a potential collaborator. From my experience, whenever people see someone with a vision and can see the quality of their work, they are more open to a conversation because this sort of vision and initiative is unfortunately very rare and it almost never really matters what exactly you do as long as you do something. 12. Reach Out to the Right Person: Usually when I want to work with a company, I research who is in charge of the department I would like to contribute to, or I just reach out to the founder of the business directly. Being able to work with the founders of companies or domain decision-makers is what I like the most about financing. Usually able to find the right contacts on LinkedIn, LinkedIn enables you to see if you have any mutual contact and the contact persons experience, so you can potentially adapt the angle of your email and at something that would make your request more personal. I like to keep these emails short, and in just a few paragraphs, I usually explain why I'm reaching out, what I would like to do and why I'm the right person to do so. What I would like to see as the next steps, mostly a crew or an in-person appointment. I usually don't email people while linked in. Instead, I try to find an email often under business website to understand how to systematize email addresses. Usually, it's just the first name at business name dot com it fits a smaller company or first name and second name at business name dot com or initial dot surname at business name dot com. Sometimes it's both initials at business name dot com. Sometimes there's a dot somewhere. If I can't find any emails on our website, I just try different options and [inaudible] error message, until I managed to identify the emails that work. One time, I found out about Google Garrett and ready wanted to work with the team. It took an intense Googling session to find out Google outsource the entire image shape is to an agency based in London. I emailed the agency, pointed out that I have experience teaching offline and thanks to Skillshare also online and ask if there was a possibility to work together. They asked me if I could record the video explaining something I thought they didn't explain in the Google [inaudible] videos, so I've recorded shorter videos about community building and sent it to them. They added me to their database and I think it took almost a year before they finally had a project they could put me on. Sometimes things don't happen immediately, but they do happen eventually. What I think is important is that I don't mind giving ideas. An idea might make me interesting as a person, but unless it's an executed idea, it's not worth that much. It's the execution that really comes. I also don't mind sending someone something I've worked on,m even if it doesn't lead to a collaboration, I still think it's fine because I'm only interested in working with companies. I would like to see succeed better with me on board or without me, both are fine. 13. Be Open About Your Passions: While this advice might seem like it's fairly extroverted, it's actually not at all. I'm hardly someone who walks into a room and screams out loud, what I would like to do and who I would like to work with. But if I'm talking to someone one-on-one, I absolutely love talking about what I would like to do and who I would like to work with. Just like with my writing. I like to be open about my passions and interests and what sort of change I would like to see in the world. Several times in the past, people have remembered how excited I was about something, and then referred me to a potential client because of that. The advice to find your voice, shout with it from the rooftops, and keep doing so until the people that are looking for you, find you, is one of the dearest guiding principles of my life. It's the guiding principle that connects people with the same passion and interests, and it's the guiding principle that bleeds the magic, at least in my opinion. Once, I was on vacation in Iceland, and I e-mailed a few people I had met at a birthday party, about five years ago. One of them messaged me back and asked to catch up over lunch. It was really nice to learn about his life and what he had been up to, and to tell him what I was doing and planning to do in the future. A couple of months later, he followed up again and asked me if I would want to help out with a project. That's how I got to work on a project with horses in Iceland. This was a project from someone I first met when I was 24 and drinking and singing in the streets of Utrecht at 2 am. Of course, it's rather strange to say, I get my projects when drinking with people. Even though that's how I started working with quite a few people in the past. At the end of the day they all said my enthusiasm was the reason they wanted to work with me. You don't have to be the center of attention at a party, to let people know what's important to you, what you cherish, and what you see yourself working on in the future. I would say this openness is what makes freelancing easier. 14. Sometimes, There Are No Clients: It would be a lie if I said I'm always fully booked. It would be a lie if I said I'm earning a six-figure income. While I have a good life even I with my proactive epic field, have experienced several dry spells. Sometimes it's due to the season. If I haven't figured out in November what I'm going to do in January and February, I'll most likely not find any projects. It's as simple as that. While, seasonality are industry and region dependent, every region in every industry has seasons when it's likely hard to find projects as an independent contractor. Sometimes it's because I didn't really have a vision for a brand at the moment, and concrete is someone the enthusiasm I usually feel when starting new projects. As a freelancer, I would say it's crucial to be flexible and being able to start projects with a lot of energy. Sometimes I don't have that sort of energy and that's time for me to do some surfing and regrouping, if I really need that. When I don't have projects, I like to focus on side projects to build my profile and references. It's what eventually kicks off the whole client finding cycle I described in this class. I have always believed that creating side projects is not just something you can do for fun, but also something that will sharpen your profile and generate additional side incomes. I've recorded a Skillshare class on that subject too. If you would like to watch it, just head to my profile and look for a class, Brand Yourself for Side Projects. 15. Final Words: I hope you feel inspired and ready to get the clients you want to work with this year. Having to look for new clients can be a daunting task but it's also a moment that brings many great opportunities and I'm excited you get to rethink your situation. If you had some good takeaways from these lessons, I would really appreciate if you would review this class. If you would like to read or watch more of my work, look for me on Amazon where you can pick up one of my books or watch more of my classes here on Skillshare. As you've learned in this class, I also share lessons on my blog so maybe I'll see you there. That would be nice.