Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you have to be a recluse in your own community. Not only does getting out of the house provide you with a much-needed social boost- seriously, all work and no play just leads to creepy Stephen King scenarios – but it can also make you a better businessperson and score you new freelance clients from your own backyard. (Probably not literally.)
Here are four ways to invest in your local business community and find freelance gigs along the way:
1. JOIN YOUR LOCAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
As a freelancer in business for yourself, you are eligible to join your local Chamber of Commerce – and this can be a very savvy move! Membership in the Chamber of Commerce helps establish you as a credible local business, and immediately gives you an in to your local business community. You will be listed as a member on the Chamber of Commerce’s website, increasing your visibility, and you’ll have the option to participate in any number of local events from business workshops to social mixers to nearby conventions.
Depending on what sort of freelance services you provide, simply interacting with other small business members of the Chamber of Commerce may score you some clients. If you design killer websites or provide sensational ad copy or manage social media, there’s every chance that one of those small business owners needs your help to level up their business – to your mutual benefit.
The one potential drawback to joining your local Chamber of Commerce is cost: membership can be pricey, depending on where you live. The good news is that some Chambers charge dues on a sliding scale and the cost could be keyed to how much annual revenue your business achieves, or how many employees you have. So check before deciding you probably can’t afford it!
2. ATTEND LOCAL MEETUPS AND OTHER NETWORKING EVENTS
Business meetups are happening all the time, full of folks making contact and forging productive relationships – to tap into these, you simply need to know they’re there. And then prepare and actually attend, of course! Like I said above, your local Chamber of Commerce is one great source for discovering networking events. You can also find such events through social media (like Facebook groups for “Boston freelancers” or “Atlanta web designers” and such) or a site like Meetup, which can connect you to groups meeting about different interests around your town.
In order to reap some benefit from these events, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Do your homework to find out who’s attending – you can usually find a list of attendees on Meetup, or talking with the organizers of independent events can give you some idea as well. You should also plan to show up in professional dress – at least business casual – with business cards in hand. Practice introducing and excusing yourself, and actively listening to everyone you meet – making note of their needs, personal details, and other demographics you may be able to leverage into gigs. When you identify an opportunity, don’t hesitate to offer your services; it’s what you’re there to do!
3. JOIN A LOCAL REFERRAL GROUP
Have you heard of referral groups? These tend to be select, small organizations who focus on helping their fellow members with referred business rather than just establishing leads. By becoming a member of one, you’re building trust with a group of local professionals who will organically work on your behalf to recruit you customers. You’ll do the same for them, of course – so when you hear someone needs an interior designer, you’ll recommend they reach out to the person in your referral network. When a friend of yours needs their taxes done, you’d recommend the group’s accountant member, and so on.
The biggest drawback to local referral groups is also their strength – they can be highly selective with limited membership. This may be to ensure that members aren’t competing against each other – you don’t want two landscape architects costing each other business. What it often means is that there’s only room enough for one professional in any given industry, though you may find groups in bigger cities with more relaxed rules for freelancers – after all, there’s often more than enough freelance writing, web design, and social media management gigs to go around. You’ll find that you often have to request membership and wait for an invitation. Don’t let that prevent you from asking, though! The worst they can say is no, and the business potential is greater than the energy expenditure of making the request.
4. OFFER LOCAL TRAINING CLASSES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Here’s the thing: small business owners are almost always looking for ways to improve themselves and how they do business. You should know that – you’re likely a small business owner yourself, and reading this article! When you’re a freelancer who works from home, you have the unique opportunity to offer your local businesses the opportunity for them to improve themselves while positioning yourself to recruit them as customers.
Here’s what you do: take your freelancing specialty, and package it as a short-term local class that you hold at your home (or local community center) or online with optional in-person meetups. If you write blog posts, offer to teach businesses how to start their own blog or what the essentials of a popular post are. If you’re a marketer, show them how to create more effective marketing or even offer a rebranding course. While they’re working with you in these classes, they’re getting to see you in action – how knowledgeable and experienced you are. Half of your students may decide it’s easier to hire you than maintain their blog or handle their marketing themselves! And if they don’t, you’re still creating these positive business relationships that can bring you referral business later.
It’s easy to find these local opportunities to network and build a client base, so long as you know where and how to look! With these four tactics in hand, you’ll be a regular fixture in your local business scene in no time. Drop me a line on how they work for you – I appreciate hearing about my readers’ experiences and look forward to your successes!