How to Ask for Work Without Looking Desperate
A recent thread on a forum I follow centered on how to ask for referrals to new clients. Some posters mentioned that they are reluctant to ask their existing clients for referrals because they don’t want their clients to know if they’re struggling. And they don’t want to ask other freelancers, because they don’t want their competition to think they’re weak. I admit that I sometimes grapple with these concerns, but existing clients and fellow freelancers can be great resources for referrals.
Here’s how to make the ask without making yourself look desperate:
Choose the right time and place.
Several months ago I attended a potluck dinner where one of the other guests mentioned that she designs and sells jewelry. Before I knew it, she’d poured hundreds of little beaded necklaces on the living room floor and asked if anyone was interested in buying. From one creative to another, my heart went out to her, but I didn’t come to the dinner to buy jewelry. Several of the other guests felt uncomfortable with her unexpected sales pitch, and she didn’t sell anything that night. Perhaps if we’d seen her jewelry on Etsy or gone to a craft fair, things might have worked out differently. Instead of cornering someone at a social gathering and giving them the hard sell, ask for their card and follow-up in a more appropriate time and place.
Don’t just tap into your network when you need new clients. If you see an ad for a fashion blogger and think it might interest one of your freelance pals, send her an email. If you hear that a client you’ve worked with just got engaged, drop her a line to congratulate her. If you read an interesting article about social media trends, forward it to your friend the web consultant with a short note. No need to mention your needs or availability in every correspondence. Make this about them. You can ask for favors later once you’ve built some goodwill. In fact, sometimes just reaching out will result in unsolicited leads.
If you’re really hurting for work, you might be tempted to make broad, sweeping statements like, “I’ll do anything! I can code or write or even water your plants.” Resist this urge. I sometimes update my LinkedIn status to things like “researching socially conscious marketing companies” or “on the lookout for women-owned businesses that need a freelance copywriter.” Isn’t that simply broadcasting desperation? One forum member asked me. I don’t think so, because I’m not begging for any old copywriting project. I’m looking for something specific, and if that resonates with someone in my network, great. If not, no harm done. I also mix up my status with updates on new projects or travel plans, so people in my network know I’m not constantly looking for work.
Give them an out.
You don’t want to bog down your request with too many phrases like “hope this isn’t too much to ask” or “I know you’re really busy,” but remember that no one is obligated to help you. They might choose to help you out, but don’t make it awkward for a colleague or client if they dodge your request. Maybe they are really busy or can’t think of any colleagues who need your services.
Show some gratitude.
Whenever someone offers a lead, even if it doesn’t pan out, be sure to thank them. I appreciate creative thank you’s when I do a favor for another freelancer, and I’m sure clients appreciate it, too. For instance, one writer sent me a jpeg of a cake as a sign of her gratitude when I helped her break into a new market, another sent an ecard. In addition to thanking the other person, you might offer to return the favor. A willingness to reciprocate ensures that others will want to help you grow your business now and in the future.
How do you ask for referrals? Do you struggle with this issue, too? Any tips you’d like to add?