If you tell a freelancer that you have a magic recipe for getting new clients, you will almost certainly get their attention. (Sceptical attention, perhaps, but attention nevertheless.)

Yet if you suggest to the same freelancer that there is probably untapped opportunity to get business from their existing clients, they are likely to yawn or turn the page.

Why is this?

As always, our greatest assets are usually invisible to us. Like our own face: the very features by which we are recognised by others, yet which we have never seen ourselves.

Much the same is true of our current client-base. Somehow, freelancers often think of this as a small, insignificant, unsatisfactory “couple of names”, that probably doesn’t even merit the term “client-base” in the first place.

Even if you have only started, and your client-base today just consists of the contract you’ve recently got, plus the one you nearly got, may I suggest a few reasons why it’s worthy of new respect:

  • They found you compelling: compelling enough to hire you. However limited their choice or perspective, they found your CV / website / experience / viewpoint strong enough to spend money on. In today’s economy, that’s something!
  • Sure, we all want better clients; perhaps closer to home or more appreciative of our talents. That’s a healthy aspiration. Yet the keys to a better client-base are usually hidden right where we are today.
  • The easiest business to close in the next three months is with the client you already have. If you want to.
  • If you want to evolve to another service or specialism, your current client is the one most likely to give you a glowing testimonial: which will be invaluable when the next client wants evidence about your (still untested) new value-proposition.
  • Clients often want to help their service-providers (ok, sometimes might be more accurate!), and don’t know how.
  • Today’s client may be tomorrow’s strategic-alliance partner. Some of the best partnerships begin this way. Alliances are gold for a freelancer.
  • Some clients become fans, and open doors to other clients that cannot be opened any other way. This year, for example, my business-development practically stopped when my partner was diagnosed with cancer. Yet a handful of current clients opened doors that kept my business alive and well.

Curiosity

Once freelancers are convinced, the next question is usually “OK, what do I have to do?”

The first step usually involves getting curious about our current client’s world. Why are they doing these project(s)? What other initiatives are vital for these to succeed? How do they anticipate risk and opportunity in the future? Who is shaping this future, and driving the decision-making? (And lots more questions, which we will be demonstrating in Watford on Nov 16th)

Curiosity is vital to understand where clients are headed. Without curiosity, we lack essential context to understand how our expertise is (or might be) valuable.

Example

Suppose you are working as a developer on a promotions project for a major retailer. Your contract is due to expire when the development ends end of December, and you would like to get another project with this company.

You can do this in one of the traditional ways a) passively, i.e. doing nothing and waiting for them to take the initiative, or b) more actively, by asking “What other projects need skills like mine?”

But there is yet another way, that runs something like this:

  • “When this promotion-system is implemented, where does the business first expect to see benefits?”
  • “With which category of products? If successful, what will that be worth?”
  • “What other changes (operational or systems) will be needed to ensure this success?”
  • “What are the risks? How can these be reduced”
  • “If I had some suggestions to make, from my experience elsewhere, who should I talk to?”

Creating Opportunity

Freelancers have a huge contribution to make to economic success. Like bees, they often carry best-practice from one sector to another, and play a key role in anticipating risk and opportunity. Sure, the dialogue above is a bit simplistic. For one thing, it’s probably a series of different conversations; for another, we often encounter middle-managers who don’t know and don’t care.

So what? We don’t need their permission to be curious, nor to add value. We can disregard those who are not value-centred and focus our attention on those who are genuinely trying to manage risk and opportunity.

Courage

As always, it takes 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.

© John Niland, Success 121 / VCO Global, November 2011

John Niland works with freelancers to grow their business. To order a free copy of “Hidden Value”, you may email cjn@success121.com (Free to IPSE readers)

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