As a freelancer, it can often feel like you have to do everything alone in terms of running your company and finding new clients. If you are working full-time for a company, you have your colleagues and all the support departments and resources available to help you do your job. When you are working on your own, it appears like there is no one out there.
However, there are many resources for freelancers – some paid and some free – which can help you both to run your freelance business as well as with business development and finding new clients.
Business Link is a free business advice and support service, available online and through local advisers. This is their jargon but the most valuable part of Business Link is in setting up a meeting with a local business adviser.
I had a one-hour session earlier this year with an experienced business adviser which helped me both in the preparation for the meeting by getting together my finances and forecasts as well as going through strategies to get more work. We came up with an action plan which involved me doing more face-to-face networking and also in developing my sales skills.
The adviser is then available for follow-up through phone, e-mail and eventually another session or two. All of this is for free and it is very valuable to have another party, an independent party review your business development plans and suggest alternative courses of action.
On the Business Link website, there is a whole load of information and guidance on the various aspects of business, from finance and payroll all the way through to growing your business and marketing. You can also call or e-mail them for some initial advice and to arrange a one-on-one session with a business adviser.
The next organisation is more like a trade union for freelancers and contractors. It is a not-for-profit organisation which offers support, advice and in some cases legal protection for freelancers. It has a very important insurance service which comes free with the membership and allows for tax investigation insurance. If you are investigated by the HMRC where they inspect your accounts and tax returns, the PCG will support you with both money and legal support.
Their website also has many re-sources including a detailed pensions and tax guide for freelancers. There is also a free helpline for legal and tax issues. They also have a quarterly magazine and a forum board plus many events where you can network and ask questions for other freelancers and advisers. I strongly recommend you joining this organisation. As well as a guide to becoming a freelancer in the first place.
Business Networking Organisations
Depending upon where you live in the UK, there will be many organisations which you can join in order to conduct face-to-face networking.
Before you go, you need to work out what is your selling point, what is the value that you add and who do you add this value to. So, if you are a graphic designer, ideally you want to be able to say to people at these events that you work with industrial manufacturing companies above £10 million turnover to aid them with their design of new products. Or if you are an IT consultant, you work with small businesses to take over their networking and IT management requirements.
In these examples which are made up I have taken the specific service and the specific type of client who would most benefit from your work. Obviously, as with many freelancers, you could help many many people. However, in these networking situations the people you speak to need to have a much more precise idea of what you do. The idea is then they think through their contacts and if there are any relevant companies, e.g. an industrial manufacturing company above £10 million turnover or small business looking for IT management requirements, they can put you in touch with those contacts.
If you just say I do graphic design or IT management for everyone then there is nothing for them to latch onto or connect with.
Going back to the topic, the next thing is to look for networking organisations in your area. The classic ones are the local Chamber of Commerce.
There are many different events to go to at your local chamber, some very high level or some very specific industry based meetings which may or may not be relevant to you. There are also some introductory meetings for new members explaining how the Chamber works and how to get the most out of it. This can be a very powerful source of referrals.
There are also several business breakfast networking events. These are usually membership organisations which you can attend as a guest where you give a one-minute pitch of your service or product. The people in the audience will then refer you to their network and vice versa.
It is also worth checking out the meetup.com website. This is a website predominantly for social and leisure activities however there are many organisations which are set up for business networking. So, many freelance or contractor meet ups happen regularly as do industry specific meet ups. You will need to do a search of meet ups in your area to see if there is anything relevant. If there isn’t, you can start your own event.
Industry Specific Organisations
The next major resource is to focus on your vocation or industry. What are the industry associations, training bodies and trade press for your area of expertise? There may be many networking opportunities within these organisations.
For example, the Institute of Business Consulting has many networking meetings as do many organisations within the advertising and marketing industries. Some of these are for everyone in the industry, where as other events may just be for freelancers or for specific job functions.
You will need to do a bit of searching on Google and also go through the trade magazines and Association webpages to see what is relevant to you. For example, the British Video Association which serves the home entertainment industry has regular award ceremonies where you can get to meet the top executives from this industry. Similarly, your industry will most likely have similar organisations and events. It is worth investigating these.
Finally, please speak to other freelancers in your industry, especially those more experienced than you as they may know about these organisations and other ones you might not have even considered.
As you expand your network and go to these events, the people you meet will let you know about even more events and organisations until you finally have a solid view as to which events are relevant for you and which you should attend on a regular basis for optimum results.
You have now learned about some organisations which can help you with both your business development and in running your company. Your job is to integrate these into your working schedule, e.g. in attending business networking events regularly and in setting up a Business Link meeting with an Advisor plus following up with the action plan you generate from the meeting.
About The Author
Rahul Nag is a freelance business consultant who has worked successfully for seven years through using business development and marketing strategies to finding and keeping clients. He has developed a blog to help other freelancers with their business development.
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