How do I get started and get exposure to independent contracting?

How do I get started and get exposure to independent contracting?

Getting the Word Out

If you wait for potential clients to contact you—or rely strictly upon an existing network of contacts you developed as a full-time employee–then you will eventually fail as an independent contractor. To make it as an independent contractor, you must initiate contact with potential clients and continue to do so throughout your career.

There’s nothing wrong with placing ads soliciting clients in trade publications, printing and distributing brochures, or hanging out a shingle in front of your office. Those are all elements of a good campaign to locate clients, but such things are insufficient by themselves to generate enough business to let you keep the doors open. It is up to you to target companies that might be able to use your services, contact them, and then convince them to use your services. The main tool you’ll use to do this will likely be the telephone.

A Tried and True Prospecting Method

In my own work as an independent contractor, I’ve found that a combination of direct mail and telephone calls has been the most productive technique for finding new work. I’ve had good luck using the following method, described in more detail in my book, On Your Own:

  1. Decide what type of company might most be in need of your services and compile a list of prospective customers. Use resources such as telephone directories, industrial and corporate directories, trade and publications, local business publications, or membership directories of business organizations and associations. Your local reference librarian can help you find these resources. It’s important to identify a contact name at each company, usually an upper level manager. If you can’t find the name you’re looking for in a published directory, then call the company and ask the name of the “Production Manager,” or whatever manager you’re looking for. In fact, at this point, you can often get a great deal of information from talking to the secretary or receptionist who answers the phone.
  2. Send a letter to the contact person you’ve identified. This can, but doesn’t have to, be accompanied by other printed material such as a brochure, writing or artwork samples, etc. Briefly describe the services that you are offering and mention that you will follow up by phone.
  3. Make a call a week to 10 days later. Your goal is to arrange a meeting with the prospective client.

In order to make this method work, you must develop a thick skin, because you are likely to experience many refusals and rude brush-offs. But you will find that, if you’ve done your homework on the companies you’re contacting, about 1 time in 10, or 15, or 20, you’ll hit pay dirt! A client will be in need of exactly the service you’re offering and will be glad to meet with you to discuss a potential project.

You’ve Got a Meeting–Now What?

Having arranged a meeting with a prospect, remember there are two clearly distinct stages to any initial meeting. The first is brief, usually lasting only about five minutes. In this first stage, the prospect is forming some judgments about you that will likely be the determining factors in whether or not you get the assignment. The prospect is looking for something elusive, namely how comfortable they feel about you. Keep in mind that many of the people you meet will be taking a big risk in giving an assignment to an outsider. If you fail to do what you promise in a satisfactory manner, you might cost them their job or their business. First impressions count for a lot and are often decisive.

The second stage involves your evaluation of the prospect. You want to be armed with every bit of information possible about the company, including key executives, number of employees, its main products and the types of customers it serves. Having such information lets you and the prospect make efficient use of the second stage of the meeting. You should also prepare a few stock answers for some questions that permanent employees love to ask independent contractors, which are actually great opportunities to start selling yourself and your skills. Finally, you need to have an agenda in mind for the meeting–after all, you asked for it and it’s up to you to provide direction. Your goal in the meeting should be to have the prospect ask you to prepare a proposal (or better yet, to walk out with a signed purchase order)!

Be an Expert!

In addition to your normal prospecting for new clients, you should also make efforts to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Common ways to do this include: speaking at seminars and trade shows; writing articles for professional journals covering your field; becoming active in trade groups and associations in your area of expertise; making yourself available to newspapers and other media as a source in your field of expertise; doing radio and television interviews; or publishing a newsletter. For this, we recommend you read one of the many books available on how to conduct a “self-publicity” campaign. Nowadays, having your own web site is a great, and relatively inexpensive, promotional vehicle. But make sure that your site is professional. This doesn’t mean “dull” or “without personality”, but it does mean readable, well designed, and informative.

From our experience, it’s almost ridiculously easy to promote yourself, since the different media have a voracious appetite for new stories and people to interview. For example, there are biweekly publications for newspaper reporters and radio/TV talk show hosts, such as Radio/TV Interview Report. A simple, relatively inexpensive ad in one of those publications can result in several print stories about you and radio or television interviews in which you can promote yourself and your services. Making yourself into an expert will result in some clients seeking you out and may even let you start charging higher fees. After all, you will be an expert–you’ll have a long string of newspaper stories and interviews to prove it!

Adapted from On Your Own: How to Escape the Corporation and Make More Money as an Independent Contractor, by Carol Lewis and Harry Helms.

Learn more about Independent Contracting – Common Questions

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