By Georgina Laidlaw

Stop Selling: Let’s Just Be Friends

By Georgina Laidlaw

Boy, I really hate selling. It’s lucky you don’t need to “sell” to freelance, otherwise I’d be broke.

Wait. Did I just say you don’t need to sell to freelance?

I did, and you don’t.

What’s wrong with selling?

Selling is fine—if you’re into that kind of thing. But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling uncomfortable with the idea of selling. More than a few freelancers are uneasy with it.

Many people who aren’t trained in sales see selling as a one-off, single-shot scenario where they either win or lose. They see making a sale as being about the up-front landing of the job, rather than the delivery of a fabulous product or service.

Whether they’re right or wrong, these kinds of perceptions can really jade a freelancer’s view of selling. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

What’s the alternative?

The solid, reliable way to freelance without selling is to make friends with your clients. Become genuine, give-and-take partners with clients, and you’ll find that:

  • you don’t need to find excuses to stay in touch with them (and remain top of mind)
  • you’ll find the path to pitching for work is smoothed—if indeed you have to pitch at all
  • your partners are more willing to help you out if and when you need work
  • you’re more likely to build self-sustaining, medium- to long-term work arrangements with them
  • they’re more likely to recommend you heartily to peers and contacts who need help from someone like you.

“Help” is really the key word here. The focus of this kind of relationship is assistance—helping clients get the kudos they deserve, helping them out of a tight spot, and helping them build customer relationships are examples of the help I’ve given my clients in recent weeks.

I didn’t “sell” this work—at least, not in the traditional, suit-and tie, hand-shaking, PowerPoint-and-handout sense. In most cases my clients simply emailed and asked me to do the work; in one or two I emailed through an idea that the client thought was worth doing.

And in a couple, I was sent the work by a peer.

Not just clients…

That’s the other great thing about this approach: you can use it across the board, with would-be clients, colleagues, ex-colleagues, people you know purely on a social basis … basically everyone.

We’re talking about forming friendships here, after all.

This allows you to be yourself at all times—you never have to switch into some kind of “sales mode” (if there is such a thing). And it means you don’t need to try to be “authentic”—who’s not authentic with their friends?!

And the best bit? The relationships you’ll form. This approach makes work fun. Making friends with your clients is a good way to automatically weed out the kinds of people you don’t get along with—people who don’t share your values, work ethic, or professional philosophy, for example. People who see you as a resource, rather than a human being. People who are no fun.

Do you see yourself as selling services, or as partnering with clients who are also friends? Give us your take on it in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user mikecco.

  • I’ve been working for myself for a while now, and I think this idea works well.

    But here’s the problems I’ve run into…. Friends want discounts!! It never fails. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has asked me to do something… for free. They are usually the worst kinds of clients to have, because they want a deal, they think you owe them something, and worst yet, they rarely pay on time.

    In your defense, though, I haven’t really built and friendly relationships from clients, it’s usually been friends turned into Clients, so maybe the dichotomy is different.

    Then again, maybe my friends are just dead beats.

    • Georgina

      Hey Jeremy,
      What actual friend wouldn’t want to pay you a fair price for all the value you’re delivering, especially if they know you’re trying to build a freelance career for yourself? Why would they think you owe them something—because they’re doing you some kind of favour by gracing you with their custom? ;)

      Yep, maybe turning friends into clients creates a different dynamic that requires more strength and determination to manage.

  • emmy_d

    Ahh, finally! Someone sums up exactly how I’ve been feeling for the last few years. I’m into relationships (genuine) rather than networking or selling. Thank you for this article Georgina, love it.

  • Thank you! I am one of those people that feel the same as you. and, yes, there is such thing as “sales mode” — I see it quite often. It may not be the most profitable for me right now, but I know it is the best path for me ;)

  • emmy_d

    Jeremy I agree with you on the ‘friends want discounts’ aspect – however I have learned two things in regard to this problem:

    1. giving friends discounts exacerbates the problem of blurred boundaries between friendship and business. charging them full price helps underpin the business side of things.

    2. my true friends don’t expect discounts as they understand that i am relying on this income, it’s how i pay my mortgage.

    the friends who i think would not respect the above, i just don’t work for. it’s not worth the stress.

    • Georgina

      Great points, emmy. Wrestling over rates is rarely, if ever, worth the stress!

  • Tim

    That is exactly my approach for freelance work, too!

    For my pricing I was always unsure what would be a fair loan for my work, so I ended up giving my clients an idea of the work I have done, plus the hours I actually worked on what exactly and then I let them decide to pay me a minimum wage or optionally more.
    Most of the time I say something like “I am happy with XY€ for my actual work, but you are free to appreciate my Service and Profession by paying up to XY€ more.”

    They always pay the XY€ more on top and even feel like good persons for it, rather than feeling ripped off by a high bill.

    • Georgina

      Interesting approach, Tim — it sounds sort of like you’re inviting clients to show how decent they are :) Who could resist? That said, I can see that this approach takes guts. You’re really putting yourself out there. Well done :)

      • Tim

        I am a very bad business man, so I had to come up with something that gives my clients the feeling of cost-control and negotiation, but pays out for me without negotiation.

        So it is more a solution born out of “having no guts for negotiation” than “having guts to put myself out there”. ;)

        Thx anyway. :)

  • I’ve realized this is exactly how I’m freelancing right now. I’m about to go and stay at a clients house for a few days with my wife and dog, do some work and do some touristy stuff in the area. If I wasn’t following this articles advice I’m sure someone would call this bad business practice. But it’s not, cause we’re friends. And that’s great!

    As long as a solid friendship can grow, then the potential for a nasty friendship/work situation to blow up is highly reduced.

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