Recently oDesk asked internationally known business coach Dr. Lois Frankel, best-selling author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, about the future of freelancing in the business world. Here are the highlights of that conversation:
oDesk: Where do freelancers fit into the current business climate, and how can they make themselves invaluable to corporate clients?
Dr. Frankel: In some ways freelancers are even more essential to clients than they were before. With shrinking staffs, the freelancer can do jobs there may be no one left in-house to do. Here are some good guidelines to follow:
• Be visible. Stay on the client's radar screen by sending out a newsletter or articles that you know are of particular interest to each client. Out of sight, out of mind, out of money should be the freelancer's motto.
• Be a trusted advisor. There's a wonderful book by David Maister of this same title (The Trusted Advisor). In it he explains that your value to the client increases as you acquire a depth of knowledge about his or her unique needs and as you deepen your personal relationship with them. It isn't simply about providing expertise or good service. This is achieved through listening and learning as much as possible about each client's challenges.
• Maintain long-term relationships. Just the other day I took an old client out to lunch because I hadn't seen him in a while and was genuinely curious about how he was doing. Within a week he called with a large project for my team. I felt a little uncomfortable because I didn't want him to think I was fishing for business so I said, "I hope you know I didn't take you to lunch just to get business from you. I took you because I wanted to re-connect with you." He assured me the project was coming down the pike for a while and the lunch just made him take action sooner. Even if you haven't had business from a client in a few years, it doesn't mean you shouldn't maintain the relationship. People "buy" the services of freelancers because they like them and being genuinely interested in others increases your likability quotient.
oDesk: How can a freelancer stand out from other freelancers?
Dr. Frankel: Deliver more than you promise. For every freelancer there's 100 people in line to do the same job. Distinguish yourself by going beyond the expectations of your clients. For example, beat a deadline, come in at lower than the cost quoted, or give more service for the same price. Consider these investments that will pay dividends later.
oDesk: Should a freelancer lower their rates to be competitive?
Dr. Frankel: Not necessarily, but they should consider temporary "economic stimulus offers." Clients want to know you understand their financial situations and are willing to help. Consider what you can "give" without charge. For example, this year we offered free travel to anyone who booked me for a keynote address. (I had a bunch of frequent flier miles, so a few hundred dollars for a hotel and ground transportation wasn't much in light of getting the speaking engagement.) Just be sure to put a timeframe around the offer, so that you don't lower your profits in perpetuity.