We all know that taking on a small project can lead to big things later on. But sometimes, a little creative thinking and some open-minded conversation can turn what seems at first glance to be a little, one-off job into a much larger proposition right now.
It’s true that some clients just need a freelancer to tackle one task and get it done, but in my experience, those clients aren’t average. Most of my clients turn out to need help in a range of areas — although they, and I, may not realize it at first. It can be hard to get your foot in the door, so once you do, it’s important to make the most of it!
It sounds simple enough, but the key to expanding a project’s potential is to talk. You might read about a client company in the press, research their print an online collateral, or check out their annual reports, but the best way to get real information is to talk to them, face to face.
I find the best client conversations are less fact-finding interrogations, and more open exchanges where both parties share information freely. If you already have a relationship with the client, that mood can be a lot easier to establish, but even if you don’t know the very well, this kind of conversation can be a great way to help build the right kind of rapport.
So, how can freelancers use talk to upsize a project? Here are four straightforward approaches that have worked for me.
1. Talking at the right time.
If a client contacts you to discuss a project, don’t delay your meeting with them. Strike while the iron’s red-hot. Usually, at least some of the factors that have moved a client to the point of deciding to seek external expertise are subtle, but they can be powerful.
To understand your client best, you want to talk to them while those factors are still top-of-mind. This can give you insight into their needs at a range of different levels — it can help you to understand them, and work out where your expertise may be most useful. On the other hand, leave the meeting for a few weeks or more, and you may only wind up getting a superficial overview of the reasons why they decided to seek your help.
Recently, a new client called me because he needed some web copy written urgently for a series of site redevelopments. I met with him a few days later and, through the course of our conversation (in which it was clear he was feeling pressure from above to get the sites redeveloped a.s.a.p.), discovered that he actually needed more than just copy: he needed someone to wireframe each site, develop a content strategy for each one, and create a corporate web style manual that would ensure a coherent, consistent voice. This little copy job had just expanded — all because I caught him at the right time.
Try to be available for your clients when they’re at their “neediest,” and you’ll get a much clearer understanding of the factors that have combined to create that need. This will give you the chance to see opportunities in which you can help the client that are beyond the scope of their initial request.
2. Talking to the right people.
Each job is different, and each client is unique. But I’ve found that often, my client’s view of a given problem may differ from the perceptions of their team members.
Most of my clients are in managerial positions, and see things from a management perspective. Recently, I asked a client for whom I was writing some product documentation, if I could speak to his team about the operational and support issues they faced. “Sure,” he said. “Go right ahead.” The operational team had some very interesting things to say — the information they gave me built on the data I’d got from my client.
After those conversations, I was able to go back to my client with a complete proposal that entailed more extensive review of the existing documentation, plus the addition of information that hadn’t already been covered. We also decided to add some ancillary information that would support the generic documentation in different ways, to help specific user groups get a grip on the product.
Talking to the right people in the client organization can give you different perspectives on the project, and illuminate opportunities that you mightn’t have seen if the only person you’d spoken to was your client contact.
3. Talking from other areas of expertise.
The product documentation I mentioned was never supposed to happen. Originally, the client contacted me to ask if I could write some marketing content for him. But when I speak to clients these days, I always take my entire bag of tricks with me. To put it another way, I never go to a client meeting as a copywriter or an editor or a proofreader. I go to client meetings as myself, with all the expertise I can offer.
In that first meeting, we talked about his need for marketing copy and the audience he was targeting. I began to ask about the support process for his product, and it became clear that the documentation was an issue. When I suggested this, he agreed heartily. “Yes, we need to get that rewritten,” he agreed. “But I don’t expect that’s really your thing.” I explained how I could help him with his documentation, and a few other things like consistency checking and proof reading. Suddenly, a reasonably sized job turned into a much larger project — and one that would let me deliver much greater value to my client.
Many clients don’t have a clear idea of what I do. They may not have a complete understanding of your offering, either. And few are able to assess their needs in a given area from the perspective of someone who’s an expert in that field. Talking from all areas of your expertise can generate ideas and discussions that grow projects significantly — or lead to extra ones.
4. Talking in the right places.
Many of my clients spring from social meetings — they’re friends of friends, old colleagues, and so on. Talking casually about your passions with people that you get along with — friends, colleagues, or contacts — is a great way to reinforce your passion for what you do, and can provide the opportunity to expose some of the expertise you offer, which your contact hasn’t yet used in their operation.
Talking through other media — social networking, your web site or blog, and other publications — is another important aspect of talk. My most recent client project came about only when I connected with an existing acquaintance on LinkedIn. She accepted my connection, reviewed my profile, and sent me a message requesting a meeting so we could talk about a project she had — she didn’t realize I offered all the services I do, and hadn’t realized I could help her.
Similarly, the talking I do through others’ websites and social networks like Twitter has allowed my contacts to get an overview of all the things I do — and get ideas about how I can help them.
As you can see, I use talk as the number one tool to make small jobs bigger, whether I’m working for a new client or an existing one. What tactics do you use to expand the projects you’re working on?