As most freelancers can confirm, the “lowest hanging fruit” is often the contract you already have. Whatever about the quality of the work (or the client, or the rate) the easiest business to secure is with the client that already knows you.

This is particularly true when we draw closer to holiday seasons: Xmas, summer etc. Decision-making usually speeds up in the weeks approaching holidays… and then enters a lull.

Do I stay or do I go?

That said, I often talk to independents who don’t want to renew. Sometimes they feel they are “going native” or being taken-for-granted. Others reason that if they don’t renew, they will be forced to find something better and so will ultimately benefit.

In this article, I am assuming you wish to renew. There are valid reasons why you may not, and these need to be considered carefully elsewhere. At one extreme, there are voices who always advocate the “big leap”, usually as long as it’s others who are doing the jumping. At the other extreme, there are overcautious advisors who would lock you permanently into the gravy-train. Much depends on individual circumstance; there is no one checklist for everyone.

Self-assessment

Assuming then that you want to renew, what is your approach? Leaving “shoulds” aside, which of the following behaviours most reflects your style?

  1. Do nothing, and hope they notice how good you are
  2. Leave everything until the last day/week, until they suddenly realise they cannot do without you (and have least time to arrange an alternative)
  3. Start talking about your achievements, knowing that just as “eaten bread is soon forgotten”, so are the problems you have solved
  4. Network as widely as possible from the day you start working there, looking out for opportunities
  5. Ask for a project-review, or get feedback on how well you are doing
  6. Outline some of the other services you provide
  7. Find ways to connect with senior decision-makers, so that you can obtain more visibility and influence
  8. (Something else, not on this list. If so, what is it?)

Hidden Value

Before reading further, I suggest you make your selection from the list above. Before making further comment, it is my passionate belief that the value provided by most professionals is massively hidden. This is as true for your client-manager, as it is for you. Back in 2006, I wrote an e-book called “Hidden Value” to assist professionals to tackle this issue, and IPSE readers can have a free copy by emailing me john@vco-global.com

The client perspective

OK: ready for this? I recommend none of the approaches listed above. Unless of course you have written something original in answer to option 8. This may come as a surprise: it usually does. Business-coaches are supposed to advocate shameless networking, right?

The problem will all this networking / claiming credit etc is that it is usually all-too-evident to the client, and quite a few client-managers will penalise a freelancer for this self-centredness. I could tell you of one project-manager who was banned from all client-contact outside the scope of his project. Or another very creative communicator who incurred the wrath of her client-manager, to such a degree that her renewal was blocked even though there was need and budget for her services.

Alternative

So, are we supposed to just sit and wait? Certainly not: in its own way, that’s just as self-centred as shameless networking. Right from Day Minus One, our task is to be constantly researching and understanding client-need - both the content and the context of our mission – so that we can deliver maximum value, and keep doing so as long as that is useful to the client.

If we are doing this, we will be talking about the client’s world, not ours. Of course we will draw on our experience with other clients when that is appropriate. We will almost certainly be asking questions like…

  • “Why is that particularly important, now?”
  • “Who decided you should be taking this approach?”
  • “Of all the problems listed which ones are the most urgent? Why?”
  • “What are the constraints?”
  • “Who will be most affected by this change”
  • “Who else is facing this risk / has this opportunity?”
  • “In the light of this, would you be interested in some support from me?”

The language and questions will of course vary from situation to situation. But what should not vary is that we are talking about the client’s imperatives, not our own.

When their need is urgent enough, they will be asking about our availability. If not, we can always nudge them: “If I could help you with that, would you be interested?” and “Who else would need to be involved, to set this up”?

Courage

It does take courage to be curious about the client world. Not surprisingly, many would rather dwell in the comfort-zone of their own expertise. That’s good news for you: another opportunity to contribute, and to stand out from the crowd.

Useful Resources

Finding Contracts