After having my daughter and moving North I knew that I didn’t want to continue commuting down to London to do my all-consuming Head of Communications job for a youth development charity. I knew that I wanted to work for myself and had the skills and experience to do it. I thought that having my own business would allow me to work when I wanted to – on my terms – and also spend time with my then one-year-old daughter. And it did, to a point. As most business owners will know, one of the hardest things to get right is having enough work at any one time, but not too much!
Your business and your brand feels personal
But how do I find my clients? This was my biggest fear when I first established my business. What if no-one wanted to work with me? What if I couldn’t find any clients? When you start a business, it suddenly all feels very personal as you, your business and your brand are inextricably intertwined. It can be hard to deal with if someone meets you and then decides that they want to work with someone else. But just like anyone who’s ever had a job interview and not got the job, it happens to the best of us and you accept it, often learn from it and move on.
After the initial worry of no clients, it then took me five more years to realise that if I lost all of my current clients tomorrow, I’d find other organisations that need marketing and copywriting support. It may take some time, some coffees, some marketing of myself (always cringey!) but it would happen and I would find other work. Here’s what I’ve learnt about finding clients in unexpected places.
What you need from a client changes over time
My first client came from a lead from a friend on Facebook. A small charity was looking for some marketing support. The pay was low and the need was great as it often is with smaller organisations. I had to brush up on some marketing know-how that I hadn’t had to use for years. But it was a start and Laura Thackray Communications had its first client! I sucked up the agreed hourly rate, got stuck in and I learnt a lot! The work was interesting and when I stopped working for the charity after almost a year, I had a great case study that I could use on my website along with some more up-to-date marketing skills in my toolbox. Just what I needed at that time.
Being in someone’s head at the right time
I’m going to put it out there: I hate networking. By that I mean the sort where you go into a room (virtual or otherwise) knowing no-one and have to talk to them about what you do. Some people love it, it serves a purpose and it opens you and your business up to new people. But for me, the most valuable networking I do is just talking to people about what I do. Not in a sales-y way like I’m trying to turn them into my next client, just whilst chatting or catching up with friends, former colleagues or even someone I’ve just met when the ‘what do you do’ inevitable conversation happens. Probably the best way I’ve found work is by someone thinking of me when they – or, crucially someone they know – have a need. This works along the lines of: ‘So-and-so needs some help with their marketing. Oh, I think that’s what Laura said she does. I’ll put them in touch.’
Having a few Ambassadors is invaluable
In life we all have ‘our people.’ The ones that we choose to be friends with, to hang out with, the ones that understand us and get us. And I think it’s the same in work terms. We all have people that we’ve worked with that we rate, that rate us and that we’d always be up for working with again. These people are some of your best Ambassadors. They think of you when an opportunity arises, recommend you to others and point you in the direction of posts that you may be interested in. Never underestimate the power of having a few of your work tribe fighting your corner and seeking out opportunities for you. And remember to return the favour and show your gratitude. To my own brilliant Ambassadors, thank you. You rock.
Ensuring your marketing is reaching your target audience
When the pandemic hit in 2022, I lost some work and had an uncertain few months. So I spent the time working on my own marketing. I learnt some new skills and overhauled my own website, making it really focused on the York market. Whilst my clients are a mix of York and London-based businesses, I know that a lot of my London-based work comes from my existing networks. So I made the decision to focus my website on the York market tailoring the SEO accordingly to make sure I was ranking in search engines when people needed local marketing support. And it has worked. Most of my referrals from my website now come from York-based organisations. The power of marketing – who knew? If you are struggling to define who your target audience is, I can help! Feel free to get in touch.
Offering your services pro-bono
When I first started freelancing I offered a few small businesses some free marketing sessions and did a couple of skills swaps to begin to build my brand. As you try and build up your profile, you could consider offering some of your services on a pro-bono basis. This begins to build your bank of clients and opens you up to whole new networks.
Getting work from others who do what you do
Over the past six years I’ve sometimes worked with marketing and PR agencies and freelancers and this model works well if you’re happy to work under someone else’s umbrella. Your client is essentially the agency or freelancer and they pass work on to you. You don’t have to find the work yourself and it opens you up to new organisations and often interesting and varied work. Downsides can include not earning as much as if you were working with the end-client directly and not building your own business brand. But for anyone starting out, targeting bigger agencies who may have more work than they can handle is a good place to start.
Treat people as comrades not competitors
Having connections with other people who do what you do can also be a life-saver. Some of my friends do what I do and they form a large part of my support network. I could see these contacts as direct competitors but the pool is large enough and there’s enough work out there for everyone. What I get from my friends is someone who completely and utterly understands how I work and what I do. I can chat to them about issues that they actually get, ask them to read proposals or strategies to sense check my work and sometimes they pass work my way and vice versa. Reaching out and being supportive to others who work in the same sphere has been crucial both to my sanity and to the development of my business.
Engaging with online groups and opportunities
Being part of relevant online groups can be a great way of feeling like part of a community and getting work. I belong to marketing, non-profit and more general freelance groups and the ability to ask questions and feel like there are other people out there who get how it is to work for yourself , or to help you with something if you are stuck, is invaluable. But these groups can also lead to work opportunities. I recently commissioned a film producer via one of these groups to work with my on a video case study project for one of my clients. Finding relevant groups and engaging in them can take time but finding new opportunities can be a great reward for the time and energy you put into them.
As we move into 2022, it feels like a good time to work for yourself. There seems to be lots of opportunities out there for freelance or contract work and organisations seem more open to working with people in many different ways which is a positive for so many of us. For anyone considering a move to working for yourself, 2022 feels a pretty good year to give it a go. Best of luck and shout if you have any questions. I’m always happy to have a chat about marketing or anything else.