My freelance career started slowly. I wrote for content mills in the beginning. I spent several years finding my way. And once I started to get some modest success thanks in large part to my persistence, I stayed at the mid-level, income- and client-wise, for way too long.
When working with sources, clients and potential clients, I spent a lot of time trying to write, act and talk like I thought people expected of professional journalists and content marketing writers. It was hard work. It was uncomfortable. And it didn’t really work – I was passed over for many more gigs than I landed and when I did land a project, it turned out to not be a good fit for me more often than not.
I couldn’t figure out why. I was following all of the rules and doing everything the way the experts said to. But it wasn’t working. Not to mention that I was miserable freelancing.
A Client Call and a Glass of Wine
Then one day, I forgot about a potential client call until my phone rang. And since the client was in San Jose, it was 7:30 pm my time and I’d already partaken in a glass of red wine with dinner. I wasn’t drunk by any means, but I was definitely much more “myself.” I laughed during the call. I let my Southern mannerisms slip out (yes, y’all is a real word). I got really excited and started coming up with a bunch of new ideas for the client. It was a really fun call. And I even followed up with an email filled with emojis to the head of marketing for a major company.
Then the next morning I woke up and decided that I had completely blown what could have been a great client. I shouldn’t have laughed. I shouldn’t have used y’all. I shouldn’t have told him how to do his marketing better. And I definitely shouldn’t have used emojis. I was so mad at myself.
I thought those things until I checked my email and found that he had responded to my email – and offered me a very lucrative retainer gig. He commented that he enjoyed our conversation and he thought I would fit in perfectly with the rest of his team. The note even said that he wanted to talk more next week about my ideas. And I almost fell over when I saw that he had used smiley face emoji in the email. The client went on to be one of my anchor clients and was a turning point in my career. I was happy, no thrilled, but I didn’t realize exactly why I had gotten the gig.
Dropping the Facade
A few weeks later I was on another potential client call and I was deep into my act of acting like a formal and very professional corporate writer. It was going terribly. The client and I weren’t connecting. I was trying to be super professional and I wanted to poke my eyes out. As a last ditch effort, I decided to drop the façade, but this time without the assistance from a bottle of Chianti. I simply stopped acting like I thought I was supposed to and decided to let my personality shine through. Within a few minutes, the tone of the conversation changed and the client and I began connecting. Yes, I landed the client.
I don’t think it was the laughing or the southern slang or the emoji’s that made the difference. But instead the fact that I was letting my true personality show during the calls.
Before that moment, each time I acted the way that I thought clients wanted me to act then, one of two things happened:
- The client didn’t hire me at all. I was stiff and boring. Even with great clips, I didn’t give anyone a compelling reason to hire me. And I definitely didn’t stand out from the pool of writers.
- The wrong clients hired me. Clients who wanted a very formal writer who simply showed up to write would hire me. But ultimately since that isn’t my personality or style or strength, then it didn’t work out. These clients were not looking for a writer with a lot of ideas who wanted to be a part of a team, which is the kind of writer I actually am.
But when I started being myself, I was attracting the exact type of clients that were looking for my strengths (ideas, friendly, hardworking, a bit silly) and willing to overlook my weakness (the occasional typo). Previously, I had worried that if I let my personality shine then some people would not hire me. I was 100 percent correct but I was missing the bigger point. That was actually a very good thing because it weeded out the clients that were not ever going to turn into long term clients to begin with.
It’s so easy to get hung up on the minutiae of freelancing. Is my Letter of Introduction perfect? Am I in the right niche? Am I undercharging? Yes, those things are important. But ultimately, in my opinion if you are willing to be truly yourself in every part of your business – website, LinkedIn profile, About Me, LOIs, phone calls and follow ups – all of the other things will work themselves out. I found that the instant I started being myself and letting my personality shine through, I began landing more clients and keeping more clients for years. And most all, I began really enjoying my job.
Do you act like yourself when you meet a potential client whether through email, phone, or in person? What have been your results?