How to prepare for better opportunities as a freelancer
In May 2020, Freelancers in Belgium organised Opportunity, an online event with live business coaching sessions, which was attended by over 50 freelancers. This event gave three freelancers a chance to share their challenges during the COVID-19 crisis and receive advice from experts on how to tackle these issues.
I wanted to organise it to provide some concrete tips and show new ways of thinking for the freelancers looking to be future-proof.
I’m also allergic to the normal webinar format, so I wanted to try something different and also find a way to feature freelancers - hence the live coaching format.
Dinosaur freelancer (30+ years freelance experience!), expedition enthusiast (hence the penguins!) and maritime photographer Mike Louagie moderated the sessions.
This article is a summary of that event and it includes extra opportunity spotting tips by freelancers for freelancers at the end.
Here are the 4 main takeaways, insights and tips I got from watching the sessions, which will be useful for developing my own freelance business:
- How to create a sexy USP
- Increase your visibility by building a content machine
- Figure out how to go from being nice-to-have to must-have
- Balance out problem, solution and resources
Let’s dive in.
How to create a sexy USP
Freelancer: Evelyne Sinnaeve - Employer Branding & Internal Communication specialist Delsi
Challenge: Evelyne is a new freelancer, she has the skills and expertise after working a long time with employer branding and internal communication for large companies. But she never had to network or sell.
Define: who is your dream customer? It’s not always the one who gives more money or a good margin but who makes you want to work for them? Narrow this down, so that you e.g can find these companies on LinkedIn. Think company size, sector, location, title. In what kind of team would you fit? There are too many HR managers, so you need to add a vertical, what do you specialise in? Then you can aim your communication and target this audience.
This took 2 years for Michael to nail down so it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight!
Evelyne has the challenge that sometimes there are exclusivity contracts which restricts her from only working with one organisation in one sector. Michael’s advice to solve this is to go horizontal with the offering.
Companies have issues with their sales process mostly due to:
Speaking with the wrong people
The problem they are solving is not big enough.
Contrary to popular belief to talk about solution Micheal says it’s much more effective to talk about problems.
As a matter of fact, Michael is an executive coach specialising in sales, but if he would profile himself as offering that, nobody would buy. Instead, he profiles himself as someone who is an expert in solving sales problems.
The only way to scale really fast, if you need who your target is and what their problems are, then talk about their problem the whole time (creating bait). You need to put the right worm on the hook. If you always talk about the problems, then people will find you.
He also said to be mindful when combining HR and internal communication that Evelyne should find companies where HR and management are already in discussion with each other because otherwise, the sales process will take too long.
How does one find out if they speak with each other? By asking.
But then the freelancer is already in the sales meeting. How does one get “in”? By getting known. We’ll talk about that in the next article.
Increase your visibility by building a content machine
INSPIRE: Talk about the ideal state (eg. earning money while sunbathing by the pool?)
EDUCATE: Teach people how they can reach the ideal state themselves
DELIVER: Unburden them - do the job for them.
All that Michael does in his content is answers questions his customers are asking.
Michael says text is the slowest form of content to create and recommends to go all-in on video/audio.
Once every two months, he organises an all-day video day.
He invites people who can answer these questions best to his studio
creates 15 videos
Takes still images to use on social media
Sends the audio file to Anchor.FM that publishes it to 9 podcast channels.
Uses Rev to transcribe the audio and turns it into a written blog.
Once a week he shares each interview on his social media channels.
You can learn more about the process in this video.
Tip: If making videos is scary then one can start with webinar recordings.
Yes, this takes time, and effort (but thanks to the batching and working with freelancers this is very effective), and costs him money. When he started off it cost him 50€ per video, now it’s 150-200€. Publishing has also helped him refine his offering. Thanks to this he can ask triple the price as when he started.
And as a bonus, many of his show guests have become customers. HINT: this is a way to get in!
Evelyne is already blogging, on LinkedIn and posted a video on Youtube. It started well but Evelyne has now much lower views. Michael encouraged her to keep going, it takes time to get the content wheel running.
My own thoughts:
I thought it was refreshing to see the shift from being solution-focused to problem-focused. I will try that in some of my own LinkedIn posts in the future.
And to be mindful about having direct access to the decision-maker to save time was also a takeaway.
And yes, I agree, by asking questions I get more attention and goodwill. It is very true that people like it when they get an opportunity to speak about themselves.
Having online visibility (I post every day on LinkedIn + manage the 3500+ Freelancers in Belgium group) has given me tons of benefits: I get to know and learn from awesome people, opportunities I never considered just appear in my inbox, I get freebies, discounts, get invitations to events and speaking gigs.
I’m yet to do something as big and systematically as Michael in terms of content, but I’m already brainstorming about ways to do this.
I’m also looking into doing more video because it adds a layer of trust. Trust is what makes the sales possible. I already sense people think they know me because of my written and sometimes visual presence on LinkedIn, but believe video can accelerate this.
Figure out how to go from being nice-to-have to must-have
Freelancer: Sam Shennan: Graphic Designer & Mural Illustrator SamShennan.com
Advisor: An Cosaert: Expert Innovation & Transformation
Challenge: Sam is waiting for clients to reopen and to start spending money again. He would like to get some thoughts on how to locate the companies who need visuals to help grow.
The number one advice from An to Sam was that he should figure out ways how to make his product the necessity of the design, create something so that your mural is the starting point and that the designers then create their design around your mural rather than merely being an add-on at the end and completing an existing story.
She said Sam should take a step back to think about his brand, his wants and dreams as a graphic designer and match his brand’s mission to the customers who are relevant to this.
And then find customers with similar brand values. Find a match in DNA with this business.
He should instead of waiting for the customers to come and complete their designs with a mural, instead find ways how he could go knocking on customer’s doors. And then go knocking on their doors.
He should think about the experience that he can add his products and his branding? This is his value proposition.
Educate your customers and show options by going in a dialogue with them about their wants, needs and value they are seeking. Tell about this on social media with images.
He’d get more creative freedom if he is there from the first steps. Probably a dream of most artists.
My own thoughts:
I heard Sam saying wow multiple times when responding to An’s advice. It also shifted my way of thinking about my own value proposition and getting in earlier with customers.
I work with marketing, so my question is also: how can I help my customers get in earlier in the value chain?
Balance out problem, solution and resources
Freelancer: Bisera Savoska: Creative Strategist Savion Ray
Advisor: Kevin de Caluwé: New Business Development Manager Creax
Challenge: After years of experience running creative campaigns that inspire and stimulate social change Bisera felt ready to expand her freelance business into a boutique creative agency. While at it she noticed she was losing touch with her clients.
One system that works for most businesses, which Kevin recommended Bisera to look into is the ‘problem, solution and resource/competence’ system.
Finding out what the problems are of the customer, figure out a solution and then see how competencies overlap. The key is to balance activities on all levels
Bisera outsourced business development too much to her first hire and lost connection with the problem/solution domain. So it’s important to always stay in contact with customers to really understand their individual problems and what keeps them up awake at night.
Kevin compared his own sales numbers from 2019 with Biseras guesstimated ones.
When looking at the numbers Kevin concluded that perhaps Bisera is going in sales meetings too soon, or if the prospects were not the right ones.
The qualification process is not working. It might be that the solution is not strong enough or either interview technique or need analysis in the prospect meeting could be improved.
Since Bisera did not know what to benchmark her figures by in the sales process with hard figures it is difficult to know where she should take action. Kevin believes freelancers and small business to keep real track of these numbers with e.g a CRM tool. Then it's easier to find out where things can be improved and balance the solution, problem and resource triage.
There were tips for affordable CRM tools in the chat: Salesflare, Teamleader and Streak for Gmail.
My own thoughts:
To see the comparison between the sales figures was really confronting for two reasons. One: I’m sloppy in tracking these. Two: If I’m just aware of where I could make a minor tweak to improve, it can have a huge effect on my business.
What (can we do) now?
There was also one big question in the chat, which we sadly didn’t have the time to answer directly, but which briefly sums up the question we were aiming to answer with this webinar:
"We are heading for a long and deep economic recession, maybe a depression (a lot of company failures, a lot of unemployment etc.) so, what are both the most common opportunities and the most common threats for freelancers in this coming period? Or what kind of actions does the freelance community have to undertake?"
Basically: "What (can we do) now?"
An Cosaert, Expert Innovation & Transformation, answers it here:
Again, I would point at the value proposition of any freelancer. Do look for the problems your target group currently has, what is he or she looking for, what does slow him/her down, what are their needs,… Try even to think ahead of what might come for this target group and then think how your expertise could help him/her. Even look a little bit further and see how your solution could be of benefit for other sectors and how you can expand your business to these other target groups.
Don’t speak in objects or rational services, but speak in value and solutions.
Also, reflect on your expertise. What do you do, what do you love to do, if nothing was holding you back, what kind of job would you love to do and then try to match it with the questions of people and organisations and you might come up with new services/new ideas. I had to do the same reflection, I learned so much about myself and how to exploit my expertise these past months, and I feel this will be a forever ongoing process.
We have to talk to each other (balanced with time management) and network, with an open mindset to help each other. We are no competitors, shouldn’t be, we can learn from each other. Even for me, as a so-called expert, I learn from each conversation because it gives me new insights… I also recommend mentoring.
Opportunity spotting by freelancers for freelancers
I also asked seven freelancers their methods for spotting opportunities and finding gaps in the market.
Freelance German Translator
Never think about What you offer, but rather How you offer it. There will always be people who do the same thing as you, the only way you can stand out is knowing How you do the same thing differently.
Talk to people & create content
Strategic Marketeer email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Talk to as many people as you can. Everyone has his own story. And when you talk to people, they tend to tell you more than they realize. A lot of times you can spot opportunities in the way THEY work. And create relevant online content, people will notice you
Freelance ICT Project Manager / Videographer - Producer - Livestreamer VOXXy MEDIA email: email@example.com
Listen to the market. Jump into the gaps that people are telling about. I see a lot of practical questions on Facebook groups for hand dispenser poles. If you are handy you can help people with making them and selling them. Same for Plexi shields.
Learn from success!
Art Director, Visual Designer, Freelancer email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Networking/Listening to and following certain business people who have shown good intuition and have successfully created new brands in recent years/reading interviews/
Jasper De Ryck
As audiovisual content creators, we (me and my colleague Arjan at Wij Draaien) tend to work from project to project, getting hired by production-, marketing or advertising agencies. Something we try to do is to contact small to mid-size agencies who often have good ideas about marketing, branding and communication, but lack the tools and knowledge to create beautiful and engaging videos. We show and tell them how we can create better quality and consistency in their video work both in capturing the image as well as in the editing and graphical side of the content. This method can also be used to engage directly with a client as well, but then additionally you will sometimes need to convince them of the power of video for their business or teach them how to best implement audiovisual content into their strategy.
Get inspiration from daily life
Freelance photographer Little Islands Photography FB email: email@example.com
Talk to people about what you do and listen to others too! Read local newspapers and magazines to know your community. Get inspiration from daily life. I just read about the difficulties local shops have and I offered some free storytelling sessions on Facebook if customers named their favourite local shop. I hope it helps me to get to know where I live.
Becoming a better 'self'
Whilst we look for opportunities in the actual physical world out there, it is of importance to convey the right energy from the inside out, meaning your own world, the one you perceive and create in your thoughts, beliefs, and rules. In the corporate world, we talk a lot about innovation, seeing the bigger picture, and moving forward. As human beings, you should apply the same principle, in becoming a better 'self'.
If we want to attract the right opportunities, design the life or career we desire and expand our mindset. It is of paramount importance to be clear about what we want and why we want it, start with the end and observe what we have to let go or adjust to move towards what it is we want. This is what we call a transformation. Transform means 'change in shape'. To change, we have to let go of the clutter in our mind that stops us from moving forward and change in what we want to be.
It has helped me to be the person I am today. It has helped me to build real confidence and most importantly to master my self-worth. It has helped me to be in the place where I should be, to meet the people I should meet and to channel the energy I should convey.
That's my advice I would like to share with you. I'll get you started and end with a question: What would the highest version of myself be doing this year?
My own tips for spotting opportunities:
I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities just by sharing what I do, in an educative and entertaining way on social media, mainly LinkedIn.
I also spend a lot of time asking questions (e.g why are you doing x, how are you doing x, what are the challenges, what would be a success to you, what is your best advice for x), both on social media and in real life with my network.
And I get many ideas from asking feedback from customers and after events and workshops.
Hope you got some tips that will help you move forward in your freelance business in these special times. Do you have comments or ideas to share?
Let's continue the discussion on social media and in the Facebook groups:
Join the Freelancers in Belgium FB groups:
For all freelancers and freelancers-to-be https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelancersinbelgium
For HR professionals: HR Freelancers in Belgium https://www.facebook.com/groups/2512495335660413
For IT people: IT Freelancers in Belgium
And for the creatives: Creative Freelancers in Belgium
This article is written by Jenny Bjorklof, Community Manager, Freelancers in Belgium with the support of Lauren Helen Walker, Content Creator at Workero, where you can book workspace inside companies and innovate together.