1. Watch for casting calls. I’m deeply indebted to a New York-based pal who spotted an opening for New York Times stringers in my area and kindly tipped me off! That led to a written contract, and, more than a year later, an editor there finally called me for a paid, bylined assignment. Major news agencies put out these calls for freelancers in specific geographical regions or specialties every now and then. It pays to keep an eye out.
If someone reputable (I said reputable, remember) is actively hunting for people with your writing, photography, design, or other valuable talents, it never hurts to throw your hat in the ring.
2. Use your existing contacts. Do you have friends, family, social acquaintances in need of your services? Previous clients interested in repeat business? Industry connections? If you’re trying to get established, you need to talk to the people you already know as well as continue to network with other professionals. If your own circle is unaware of your capabilities, you cannot reasonably expect outsiders to know who you are and what your business offers.
3. Do a spec job. If you don’t have a substantial portfolio, build one! Create a sample brochure for a prospective client. Write marketing copy. Take your camera out and complete a few shoots. Research a story and pitch it to editors. Dig out your paints, craft supplies, beads, whatever it is that you use to create, and get to work.
4. Showcase your portfolio. Once you have a portfolio, curate it. Select your best work samples and find a way to display them publicly. These displays could be physical (a storefront, a consignment gallery, a catalog) or digital (a personalized website, an Etsy shop, a branded social media page). Set a schedule for adding new material or promoting your services. Will you be a regular vendor at select local shows? Will you post a new item online as soon as you finish making it?
5. Invest in a professional membership.Yes, for worthwhile professional associations this will probably be something you’ll have to pay for. Yes, that technically makes it a paid service. No, I’m not contradicting myself. The difference between a professional membership and the types of online services we discussed last week is that the former is a network of professionals in your field. Your money doesn’t get you in, your industry credentials do. There are, or ought to be, standards to meet, conduct and ethics codes, meetings and networking events, and other perks, such as regular newsletters or member forums. Ideally, you want one with a reasonably current website, active participants, and a comprehensive, searchable directory. You’re looking for a place that will increase your industry clout, enhance your professional development, and help potential clients locate you, preferably through an online bio or a link to your business web page. Bonus points if the organization provides access to job listings in some form.
6. Cold call. Or cold e-mail, or cold walk through the danged doors of your target client’s offices and seek out a live human. Being an outright pest may not thrill the people that you want to work for, though. That organization has gotten along just fine without you thus far, doing whatever it does, so do respect people’s time. Just try to at least make a decent first impression and exit with the name of somebody who has the power to give out assignments.
7. Advertise. Target specific clients and offer perks to those who sign up for your service or purchase your product within a limited time frame. Student discounts, non-profit rates, coupons, newsletters, white papers, e-books, digital downloads, prints, branded merchandise, videos, lessons, and accessory products are among the customer perks that could be at your disposal, depending on your budget and your industry. An instructor or coach may charge lower rates to workwith high school or college students, for example, or a photographer might offer free wallet-sized prints with a minimum order for each senior photo booking.
Such perks may be acceptable for some writers, self-employed artists, and designers working in photography, graphic arts, fashion, or other creative industries, however, they are not considered appropriate for those working in traditional news media. Familiarity with industry norms is critical here. Generally speaking, if offering a perk can give the appearance of quid pro quo or otherwise create a potential conflict of interest, you should avoid it.
Do you have a client-hunting strategy that didn’t make my list?