Career Advice

5 Ways to Build a Powerful Infrastructure For Your Freelance Career

By Herbert Lui June 16th, 2014

A friend of mine works at a startup that builds a lot of services in-house. For example, the company chooses not to outsource their analytics to a third-party platform; instead, their developers created their own custom solution. While I thought this sounded a bit intense, he pointed out this type of investment in infrastructure has helped them survive and succeed thus far, and could pay off even more in the long run.

As I was writing a piece for Lifehacker about some one-hour routines that would improve freelancers’ lives, I kept coming back to how infrastructure could help you, as a contract worker, set yourself apart from competition.

No longer is a “personal brand” or a “reputation” the only things you need to consider. Here are five ways every freelancer can build a powerful support system:

1. Build your river

Unfortunately, a lack of creative inspiration isn’t an acceptable excuse for not completing assignments. Writers need topics to write about. Designers need patterns, ideas, or new problems to solve.

If you find yourself frequently running out of ideas, take a lesson from the Nieman Journalism Lab. Entrepreneur Dave Winer wrote about how he thinks news organizations should start rivers, or collections of content people are always reading.

For freelancers, this concept could also apply to RSS or social media feeds that you and your team members curate. By reading through these articles, and looking at the world through all different lenses, you will start generating more topics. Freelancing can be a siloed activity, so get friendly with other freelancers (potentially from other beats or realms of expertise, to stay non-competitive) and collaborate on a river that could lead to inspiration for everyone.

2. Create a mailing list

A mailing list can be a valuable asset to any individual, but is particularly useful for freelancers. Consider your mailing list a community of people who share a common interest. For author and designer Paul Jarvis, the list is for people who are interested in productivity and creativity. Jarvis, originally known for his web design work, used his mailing list to make his transition into writing, which helps him diversify his income streams.

Mailing lists can also be used for recruiting (my mailing list helped when I was looking for writers and researchers for my agency), or they can be used to solicit extremely quick feedback from people who are interested in your work.

The most simple way to get people to signup is to offer content to your audience. Jarvis published a weekly newsletter every Sunday. Bestselling author Ryan Holiday has his monthly reading newsletter. Farnam Street Blog’s Shane Parrish has a weekly digest of his articles. If you don’t have the bandwidth to write regular newsletters, you can also create an eBook, for example, that leads to subscriptions and downloads.

3. Forge relationships with advocates

One of my friends works at Influitive, a company that specializes in advocate marketing, and their big idea is: marketing is now built on trust. People buy according to word-of-mouth marketing or social proof. For example, if you were looking for a company to help build your mobile app, and you had narrowed it down to three options, the one that a former colleague recommends would likely catch your eye the most.

Influitive is shaping an extremely interesting platform built around this big idea, but I simplified it for my own use. If I have a particularly good relationship with a client, I consider them my advocates. I pay them a bit more attention.

My advocates are people I can turn to when the press calls or when a prospect asks for a reference. I know they will endorse my work. In return, I also need to return the favor by providing value for them by consistently sending information, articles, or ideas that could help their business.

4. Start a waiting list

Bestselling author Ramit Sethi has a unique way of launching products: He closes access after just one or two days to make his work more exclusive and desirable and sends an email promoting a waiting list for people interested in his product. Smart guy.

Now imagine if you had a waiting list for potential business contacts in case something happened with a current client. You would be able to immediately approach leads to help minimize the damage. And while you may not be able to close a waiting list client right away, at least there would already be an established interest.

5. Seek assistance

The key to scaling up work in services comes from human resources. If your business development efforts are successful, there comes a point when there’s simply not enough time for you to produce everything you want to create. For freelancers, that’s when it helps to get some assistance.

If you’re a freelancer thinking about scaling your work, take a lesson from startups exploring new verticals: hire interns. Interns require less investment, and although they may not have much experience, they can take care of background work for projects you’ve wanted to investigate.

Assistance can also come in the form of alliances with other trusted freelancers in different verticals, such as freelance writers connecting with designers or marketers. Imagine if you are a writer, and a client needed design help—here is an opportunity for you to provide value to both parties, and the designer may be able reciprocate and offer you more work in the future.

Closing thoughts

As you grow a freelance career, your infrastructure will serve as the foundation of an effective support system. It’s there to help you stay sharp, collaborate, and reach new clients. If you take care of your infrastructure, it will take care of you.

Image by Dierk Schaefer
Tags: , ,