Monday, January 11, 2010

Location Independents, Freelancers, And Those With Niche Talent: People You'll Need To Know.

I used to say yes a lot, or a lot more than I do now at least.  I used to take a project and plan it out and gather people to work on it and boss everyone around until it was done.  Because I'm bossy and I enjoy that sort of thing.  The problem was, I was spending so much time accepting projects that I am semi good at that I wasn't spending time doing things I am really good at.
Like when I first started out and thought I would be the best person to design a charting feature on a client's website.  I am a) not a designer and b) I hate most charts including excel (I will avoid this application at all costs).  I was clearly not the right person to do the job but there was a tiny bit of social media need for this client so I accepted it anyway.  To make a long story short it didn't go well (understatement). 
If you are a niche shop, freelancer, or location indie you should know this:  you are not a one stop shop.  People don't expect you to be a one stop shop.  Do what you're good at and refer the rest.  Which leads to my pearl of wisdom for the day and your homework assignment.
Write down complementary services to yours and meet people whose work you trust in those areas.
For example:  I get a lot of projects that require an actual designer, a programmer, and a video production crew.
In order to ensure that I work on things I am really good at I started going to local design meetings, stalking designer blogs, and watching a lot of online video to find out who was going to be good / reasonably priced.  Then I started referring.  I didn't try to manage the project and take a cut or somehow get involved I simply told the client "look, this isn't really my expertise but I have worked with _________ that would be a perfect fit" and turned over the whole thing.
That was really scary because sometimes I turned over projects when I wasn't really that busy and I could have really used the money. 
Eventually what started happening was my new 'complementary services' friends referred projects back to me that fit my skill set perfectly.

This will also help you network with a purpose.  I need to have a purpose when I network because otherwise I come home with 18 Real Estate broker's business cards and a few others' whose businesses will never want to work with me.  If I know I need a designer / programmer on some upcoming projects I know who I want to talk to when I get to the event and I get caught up with the real estate people a whole lot less (no offense real estate industry... I end up talking to you guys because you're more outgoing than everyone else).

Networking purposefully and creating a circle of complementary resources means that when you turn away projects you will look good by providing a solution to your client's problem and you keep the project 'in the family' at the same time.  You can probably still boss a little from that distance too if you are so inclined.


Blogger segdeha said...

This is right on the money. I started doing this a few years ago and it's an excellent way to build goodwill with other freelancers. What that does is create a network effect where, instead of doing all of your business development yourself, you have dozens of other people out there watching out for projects that might fit you.

January 11, 2010 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Royce said...

I feel like you mean complementary services, because they complement those skills that you have. Unless you mean they're free, as in complimentary.

This is smart, practical advice for independent people with skillz like yourself. Well said.

January 11, 2010 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

segdeha - you're exactly right, it's a great way to develop business without having to do all of it yourself.

Royce - dang! Looks like I need a complementary proof reader! haha.

January 11, 2010 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Great post! Love the graphic too. I think this kind of referral business helps build credibility within your industry network. When I owned my business, I used to do this all the time. I also found it helpful to check back with both the client and the other business.

January 12, 2010 at 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Luke Latimer said...

Interesting post.
It's ironic that the advent of social media and the 'globalisation' of services has come full circle and now localisation is the new focus for social media platforms. The idea of looking at complementary services to build your business is a really great one - thanks for the tip!

January 12, 2010 at 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Brittany Thompson said...

"The problem was, I was spending so much time accepting projects that I am semi good at that I wasn't spending time doing things I am really good at."

Ha! I can relate! Your advice here is so true. Networking is incredibly important - and I've found it is THE main reason I've been so fortunate to be growing my business, in the design field, in Kentucky, in the middle of a recession! Whew!

What I've found: Even if you don't know others in your industry (or related industries), try Googling related blogs and leave your comments, offer praise, and ask whatever questions you may have. While not everyone will have the time to respond, you might be surprised (as I was) by how many people WILL - and how kind, supportive and helpful they will be. Network face-to-face at local meetings (check out for ideas). Referring business out doesn't necessarily HURT you because, in this economy, many people are willing to help you out if you help them in return. In other words, send business to others when you can, and you'll find them referring people to you for things YOU excel at.

All the best,


January 18, 2010 at 2:16 PM  

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