Last week, you read Aimee’s strategic approach for picking skills and services to sell as a new freelancer. This week, she’s taking it up a notch by talking about how she went from a freelancing newbie who suddenly found herself without projects, to quickly becoming someone who:
- offered services her target clients really wanted to pay for,
- and started charging premium rates.
It’s an awesome story and I suggest you read every word.
Networking is scary.
The first time I spoke to an expert was via Skype. I was so nervous. My voice was shaking throughout the interview. My best responses were “Uhh…”, “Y-yes” and – my favorite – “He, he.”
Kabado na nga, kailangan ko pang mag-English! Nosebleed.
Embarrassing as it is, I shared this to tell you it’s possible. You can connect to the people whom you admire – even if:
- You are completely new to online freelancing
- Kahit wala kang kakilala in the industry
- You are a shy person.
But before you learn the steps, I will show you how networking with experts helped me.
The fast track to better rates
When meeting successful freelancers, I love asking their opinion on different topics. One of them is how to increase one’s rates. 😛
I mistakenly thought that my rate would increase if I had better skills - but I was surprised to learn that it’s not necessarily the case.
Highly-paid freelancers said that skill isn’t the only one that determines your rate.
Yes, skill affects your income. But it is only one of the many factors. You should also consider:
- Your mindset about rates – I had initial doubts about how much I could charge, asking the experts “Can Filipinos really earn that much?” or “$100 per article? Hindi ako ambisyosa. Haha.”
- Your soft skills – This includes negotiation and networking skills.
- Your chosen industry or niche – Are you in lucrative industries like finance or business? Or are you serving an NGO with limited funding?
- Your clients – Are they bootstrapping startups or big companies?
I used to just spend time and effort learning this on my own. I read blog after blog, trying to find ways to get paid higher. I also applied for projects with slightly higher rates - but I must have been doing something wrong because I either got rejected or ignored. It was like that for almost two years.
By just talking to expert freelancers, I was able to increase my rate within a month, as shown in the graph below.
That’s the magic of asking an expert.
So you’ve seen how it helped me. Now, it’s your turn.
You are going to learn the step-by-step process of how I network with experts. Hopefully, you’ll benefit from it as well.
Step One – Start with a relationship-building mindset.
You are going to reach out to an expert. That person has more influence, connections, income, and privileges than you. It wouldn’t hurt to ask for one tiny tiny tiny little favor, right?
Wrong. It’s actually a sure-fire way to be ignored – for good.
Unfortunately for me, I’m saying it from experience. (He, he).
Instead, see this as an opportunity to learn and discover new things. Your focus is to establish an on-going relationship with them.
If you begin with that mindset, you’ll gain not only a mentor but also a new friend. 🙂
Step Two – Ask permission first.
Assume that all people are busy (and can never be proven otherwise!) Still, most online entrepreneurs and freelancers are kind. They will be happy to help you out.
If you are a seasoned freelancer, you might already be in contact with other professionals. That’s good. You can skip this part if you want.
If you don’t know anyone, you can find them via their blogs, forums, Quora, FB groups, LinkedIn, Twitter. You can also google your field.
In reaching out to top dogs of your industry, however, try establishing a relationship first. Do something for them. Help them out. Otherwise, you’ll get this:
(Note: This is an email from a famous blogger.)
Since you will have to talk to people directly, it is best to begin with by asking their permission:
AppSumo founder, Noah Kagan, advised: Read your email aloud. If it goes beyond 60 seconds, shorten it.
Step Three – Prepare good interview questions.
(If you had no replies, don’t worry. It’s very common. Out of the 30+ emails I sent, I only talked to five experts on Skype. But as I said before, it was worth it.)
Once you receive a “yes”, settle the time and date of the meeting immediately.
Then, prepare your questions.
First, research as much as you can about the person. If your chosen expert has a blog, read as many entries as possible. You will begin to notice subtle patterns in beliefs and personality.
This will give you an idea how you can establish rapport during your meeting and what kind of questions to ask.
Second, make a list of everything you want to find out from the expert. Ask yourself: “If he/she can only answer one question, what would I ask?”
This will lead you to your first question. In case there will be a connection failure or any unforeseen interruption, you still get the answer you are dying to know.
Get four more questions. You are prepared for a 45-minute interview.
If you have no idea what to ask, here are some suggestions:
- starting rates (for newbies)
- where to find clients
- industries that are hiring [job title]
- courses to take to improve your skills
- how to earn a living as a freelancer
- better solution to your current problem
[Celine’s Note: I’ve created a thorough primer on how to ask good questions in a previous post here.]
Lastly, say your questions in a conversational tone. From my experience, straight-up questions startle people.
For example, you want to find out about the ‘starting rates’ for a web designer. (Note: I just threw random numbers)
- Straight-up: What’s the starting rate for a web designer?
- Better: I was researching about rates for web designers. [Site 1] says $100 per project while [Site 2] says $600. The gap seems too wide. What do you think about this?
This will also tell the expert that you did your homework – meaning you’re not looking to be spoonfed and they are not wasting their time on you.
Step Four – Zip up your lips and pay attention.
Best-selling author, Ramit Sethi, suggests that you allow the experts to “speak 90% of the time”. during your interview, encourage them to hog the conversation and speak about themselves. If they are excited about the topic, they will ramble on. That’s even better. You will learn more.
I say this from experience: a 5-minute chat with an expert beats 10 hours of Googling. No exaggeration.
For example, I asked them: “how do you get your clients?” Their answers surprised me:
- “I’ve not really done any active marketing for a few years now. I mostly go on referral.” - K. L.
- “I usually reached out to them by joining entrepreneur groups online. LinkedIn is a great place for this…” - A. M.
- “I never had a job from bidding sites since I started working online. I have an account but I never used it.” - C.R. (Guess who? =D)
Notice their answers all have to do with referrals and building their network. These are alternatives to popular advice like:
- “Go to oDesk, Elance, Guru, etc.”
- “Ayusin mo ang profile mo para maka-attract ka ng maraming clients.”
- “Create your own FB page.”
- “Start a blog right away.”
Does the popular advice work? Sure, sometimes. Some of it I experienced firsthand. However, not all of them can help you land a high-paying project.
For example, I quickly learned that job bidding sites are usually for clients on a tight budget or those who want to maximize profit. So, it is rare to find someone who is willing to pay $50 or even $100 per article in those places.
Here’s another crucial way that talking to experts has helped me: I was able to change my service offering from something they didn’t need or want to pay for, into something they desperately needed for their business.
See, I didn’t plan to become a writer at first. My aim was to be a social media manager for online coaches. But after talking to them, I learned that they were not hiring SMM. They didn’t want to pay for one right now. In their words, they “don’t need one at the moment”.
(Note: The actual list of target clients I interviewed was much longer.)
Because I wanted to earn money, I had to let the idea go (for now).
Instead of SMM, I discovered they need help in writing blog entries, “copywriting”, “formatting posts” and “managing guest posts”. One even paid writers!
I was a research assistant before so I thought MAYBE I can try writing web articles. So I made the switch from pursuing social media management to writing.
If I never asked, I would’ve continued on with a bad business idea. Asking their advice had saved me a lot of time, frustration, and possible heartaches.
Step Five – Say “Thank you” and follow-up.
In saying your thanks, include your intention to follow-up.
(Note: Maybe not as chummy.)
Read the underlined words again: “Balitaan kita.” and “follow your recommendation”. You have to mean it though. If you think their advice is not applicable to you, then just say: thank you and that you will update them with your progress.
Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, says 5–10 days is a good interval for the first follow-up.
These are some examples of follow-up email:
Remember to always include “No need to respond” if you are only updating them. The busiest VIPs would love you for it.
Step Six – Return the favor.
Over time, I realized that receiving an answer is actually a privilege. It is only right that you try to help them out as well.
You may share their posts on your page. You can ask your friends to subscribe to their list. Feature them in your blog. Send students to their affiliate links.
The key here is to help them with what they need. From experience, if you continue communicating with them, opportunities to help will surface eventually.
If it did, you can use this script:
If you still doubt your ability to help a VIP, think of it this way:
They maybe great in business or your chosen field, but they are not masters in everything else. There is always a gap somewhere.
You could be the one to fill that gap. Or, if they’re all set, you can always pay it forward and tell them about it! 🙂
Leveraging Other People’s Expertise: The Fast Track to Success
It is possible to learn all of these through many years of experience. You can spend many hours reading blogs, listening to podcasts and studying further. That’s valuable too, but it’s not the most efficient use of your time and energy - especially if you’re in a hurry to make freelancing work for you.
You could cut the years into weeks or days by simply asking someone who has been there.
Author Bio: Aimee Espiritu writes about freelancing, psychology and technology. You can connect with her on Twitter or Google+.