Invest in relationships – they matter

A while ago, I wrote about how I came to get the job of editor for Macworld Australia. It came after many years of being a freelance contributor to the magazine. But I wasn’t the only long-term contributor. I also ensured that I maintained a good relationship with the publishers and it was the combination of relationships and experience that got me that job. But, the publisher has decided to shutter that operation and I lost a long-timer retainer client. While that hurt, the pain was short-lived.
I’ve been freelancing for the best part of 15 years. For about half that time, my writing work was an enjoyable side-job that brought in some extra money while being fun – a hobby with benefits. But about eight years ago, I decided to make the leap and give up my nine-to-five job and try freelancing full-time.
One of the big factors in making that decision was that I had a solid network of contacts and I was confident I could convert those relationships into work opportunities. But creating that network took effort. It wasn’t accidental. I went to a lot of media events, even though I didn’t think I would get any story leads, just to meet people and learn what they did. Then, I would think of ways I could help them.
I set up coffee meetings and invited people to simply spend half an hour and explain to me what they did and vice-versa. There were days when I would fly to another city and set up camp in a cafe and meet with a different person every hour. There was no selling agenda. It was just a dialog where we exchange at we did and, in some cases, note where there may be opportunities to work together one day.

That brings me to now

When the publisher of Macworld Australia contacted me to say the publication was closing down I was disappointed. Not just to lose the work but also because I’d been a part of the magazine and website for almost the entire time I was freelancing – about 14 years. But I had to brush that sentimentality aside and consider what I was going to do about the lost income.As it happens, I didn’t have to do anything.Over the years, I have made sure that I’ve maintained some level of contact with a num,her of people, not companies, that I particularly liked working with. When word got out that Macworld Australia had folded, they called me. Their first questions weren’t about work; they were concerned that I’d be OK after losing a long-term retainer client. But they followed that with a little bit more.A couple of them said they were looking at expanding their contributor roster and that the timing of my newly available “spare time”, from losing one client, put me on their radar. From losing one client, I gained another two clients.

What makes good relationships?

Do good work

One of the most important pieces of advice I received early on in my freelancing career was that it was my role to solve problems and not create them. Delivering clean, on time copy that met the editor’s brief is critical.

Communicate regularly but don’t be a stalker

There are lots of ways to maintain contact with people. Social media is a powerful tool. Doing a few simple things such as liking Facebook and Twitter comments, sharing posts and posting comments show that you are interested in people and their work.You can also participate in online forums and mailing lists. And for more solid relationships, the occasional email or phone call is good as well.

Don’t be a taker

When you’re hustling for work, it can be easy to see things from your own perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s position and look at what they need. It might be that you can’t solve a problem for them. If that’s the case a simple “How are you?” message might be all that’s needed.

Be strategic

One of the challenges we face today is that it’s very easy to connect with people on a superficial level. For some, collecting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn friends and followers is a competitive sport. But the reality is that it’s an impossibility to maintain relationships with all those people.Business relationships need to be mutually beneficial. And that means being selective about where you put your efforts. I figure most freelancers need to spend about 20% of their time on administrative tasks. Relationship building needs to be allocated a part of that non-paying work time. It might even need to be funded with the occasional trip to another city in order to meet with important contacts.By investing in building long-term connections where you can bring value you’ll help ensure you’re in a good position to recover if something doesn’t go to plan.

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