Part of the appeal of freelance work is the flexibility to work from home. Spending all day on the couch in yoga pants instead of in uncomfortable heels in a tiny cubicle? Sign me up! But sometimes online business owners get a little too cozy working from home and miss out on amazing clients because of it.
Social media and email lists aren’t the only way to build your client base. Some of my best-paying clients have come from connections I made in real life. Meeting people in person gives you the opportunity to connect on a more personal level than on Twitter or in a Facebook group, and many businesses are more likely to hire freelancers they know as a real person.
It can be uncomfortable to meet people in person, but it comes with plenty of benefits. (None of my real-life contacts have ever offered to pay in “exposure!”) Getting out from behind your computer screen just once or twice a month can make a huge difference to your client roster.
Start with these low-pressure places to make in-person connections with potential clients.
1. Coworking spaces
Coworking spaces are the perfect place to make in-person connections without feeling the pressure of a traditional networking event. Not only are these spaces perfect for getting work done, they give you ample opportunities to get to know your fellow “coworkers” in the lounge area or around the office coffee pot. It probably won’t be long before your fellow freelancing buddies are referring their own connections to you—or hiring you themselves!
Many freelancers view conferences as a worthwhile investment because of the high potential for new clients in addition to everything they learn from the conference speakers. You don’t want to head into a conference only looking to network, but be open to conversations with the woman next to you at the keynote address, or the guy ahead of you at the salad bar. Talking about what you do will come up naturally in the course of conversation, and swapping business cards is the norm at conferences, so you don’t have to worry about coming across as too salesy. (If the thought of pitching your services at a conference still makes your skin crawl, these tips will help.)
3. Casual social events
The connections you already have are a great way to spread the word about your business! You’ve (hopefully) already told your close friends and family about what you do, but don’t forget about acquaintances, distant relatives, or other friends you don’t see as often. Make the most of awkward small talk at a wedding or reunion by mentioning that you’re always looking for new clients when the inevitable “So what do you do?” question comes up.
4. Public transportation
No one wants to be that guy on a train or airplane who can’t take a hint when their seatmate isn’t feeling chatty. But if you find yourself next to someone who’s open to conversation, don’t be afraid to slip in a few details about your work or area of expertise. At best, your new buddy will ask for a business card, and at worst, you’ll have gotten some valuable practice talking about your services in a low-key situation.
5. Where your hobbies are
Everyone gets out of the house now and then to pursue their hobbies, whether it’s hitting up a new yoga class or going to a book signing by a local author. These events are fantastic for meeting people with similar interests, which makes them a natural place to make the sort of connections that turn into new freelance clients. Having something in common makes a sturdy foundation for a new friendship. Most people are more than happy to recommend someone whose company they truly enjoy to their contacts who are looking for freelance help.
6. Networking or pitching events
Of course, you can make meaningful business connections at events specifically designed for networking or pitching your services . . . but it can be harder to make yourself stand out when you’re in a sea of other freelancers. Make the most of these events by focusing on being personable and friendly. Everyone else will be reciting their elevator pitch—and you should be, too—but you’ll make a better impression if you keep an emphasis on forming friendships and helping others out.
Turn real-life connections into paying clients
The idea of in-person networking might make you squirm, but if you look at it as making friends and being a helpful person, you could discover you enjoy making connections in the real world! Focus on letting your personality shine and being a good friend, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly those random outings turn into real, paying clients.
Where have you found your best in-person clients? Tell me about it in the comments!