Ah, the end of the year. That wondrous time of snow, seasonal holidays, and … stress.
Here are some ideas for freelance tech communicators to consider as the new year approaches. They’re based on thinking like a client rather than like someone who needs to get work from a client. When you put yourself in your client’s shoes, you make more appropriate gestures and are more likely to generate a result that works for your freelance business.
Now is the time to decide whether to make gifts to your clients and what to give. Some may not be able to accept gifts from freelancers or contractors—even small, inexpensive ones. Some may see gifts as a form of bribery. I like to think of end-of-the-year or first-of-the-year gifts as a way of saying “thank you” to clients. (I often don’t get those gifts in the mail until early January, which is a good way of standing out from most of the crowd and positioning my gifts as genuine thank-you gestures.)
I like to give my clients something personal and lasting, rather than food or flowers. Food can be iffy these days, what with all the allergies and personal preferences to juggle. I create my own cards, include my promotional pens, and create a package with something lasting—a calendar, a mug (my all-time favorite was a mug with the new year’s calendar on it, but I haven’t been able to find those for years), a mousepad—something that can be at the client’s side, on the desk, throughout the year, that is practical and useful while a low-key reminder of my existence. Think about what you might like to receive as a gift from a colleague or client, and move in that direction.
It’s also a good idea to send a holiday or new year’s greeting to past and prospective clients. This gesture has at least two advantages. It’s an important opportunity to show class and a grasp of etiquette in appreciating those who make your freelance tech comm business successful. It’s also a reminder that you exist—which can result in new assignments from both recent and apparently long-lost clients. Every time I’ve sent out holiday greetings, with or without gifts, I’ve ended up with a new project, usually from someone I haven’t worked with in awhile who says, “So glad to hear from you—I happen to need someone right now.”
This is also the time to look back at how you’ve tried to promote and market your business or services to see what worked and what didn’t. Don’t think of it as making new year’s resolutions, because those have the onus of all those years when we haven’t met them. Think of it as planning for your freelance business.
Make a list of new clients or projects from this year, with notes about how they found you or you found them. If you can track efforts that didn’t work out, do so, because knowing what doesn’t work will save you from wasting time and energy on repeating that negative history. Gather the pro-and-con info so you can start the new year focused on expanding those efforts that paid off and dropping or rethinking the ones that didn’t.
Channeling your inner client for this aspect of your freelance business means having a plan—an actual, conscious approach to finding new clients and working effectively with them. It means planning in the same way that a client might (ideally) organize a tech comm project to fulfill everything needed to make that project work out smoothly—maybe on a smaller scale, but with a similarly structured approach.
I’ve been lucky to have new clients and projects seem to drop into my lap at the moments when I needed them most, thanks to colleague and client referrals, being found through my website and my LinkedIn presence, and other serendipitous factors. For my business to continue to grow, though, I need to be more thoughtful and conscious about finding new opportunities in the new year.
Consider planning new ways to benefit from your STC or other organizational membership—being more active in discussion lists or forums, speaking at chapter meetings or events of other organizations (local Chambers of Commerce are worth considering), teaching a class online or in person for STC or some other group, such as a local writers’ center or college. The more visible and helpful you are to colleagues, the more they will think of you when they can’t take on a new project or client themselves.
Update or expand your website. Enhance your LinkedIn profile. The more ways you can be seen or found, the more clients will come to you.
Consider learning a new skill or how to use a new program (and then announce it!). Our clients need to come up with new things to offer to their customers, so we need to tailor our skills and offerings from a similar perspective.
Do some research to identify new companies or publications to contact for projects, and new trends that you might be able to respond to. It’s a new year—look in new directions! Again, your current and prospective clients will be looking for new products and projects to develop, so think along similar lines, and position yourself to be the freelance tech communicator who would be ideal for helping create and document those products and projects.
An external focus
Overall, approach the new year by thinking outside your personal box. Think about how you respond to inquiries from vendors or service providers, and approach your clients in the ways that work with you.
However you position your freelance business for the new year, here’s to a successful and profitable 2014!
Ruth E. “I can write about anything!” Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a long-time, successful freelance writer, editor, proofreader and more. She has spoken at local and national STC conferences; is the author of Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer and Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business; and hosts an annual conference for freelancers through her Communication Central business (www.communication-central.com).