In one of our last posts, we discussed the best ways to leave your job and prepare to start your own freelance business. While it’s great to get new clients for your business, there’s another, potentially easier, way to get clients for your business: your former colleagues.
If you left your job on good terms and were talented at what you did, consider turning your former colleagues into new clients or client referrals. Here are the best ways to leverage your former job into new business.
Evaluate Your Services
Before approaching former colleagues for business or leads, determine what services you offer that will best suit them. In your former job, were you the go-to person for proofreading, web design, or writing compelling content? If so, and if these services are part of what you offer, lead with this strength when marketing to former colleagues.
You’ll want to offer services your former employer needs, and no one knows their needs better than you do. You have additional leverage over other consultants because you know your former employer’s needs and procedures better than someone who’s never worked there.
Go to the Decision-Maker First
As much as you may want to go to your closest former colleague, you should to go to the decision-maker first. This is the person who determines whether or not the company will be able to afford your services, so it makes sense to visit them first.
Note that the decision-maker could be the director or CEO, or they could be high level staff in the budget section. You should know who this person is from working in your company, but if you don’t, ask a close former colleague to point you in the right direction.
A former colleague of mine routinely stops by our office during certain times of the year to pitch his services to our organization. At the beginning, our office didn’t choose to use the services he pitched, but the decision-maker in our office mentioned other services our office needed help with. The next day, this former colleague had a new pitch that perfectly captured what we needed and could pay for. If my former colleague had visited anyone but the decision-maker, he would have received a “no, thanks” and no additional information. By visiting the decision-maker first, he was given additional information he couldn’t have otherwise received.
No one knows your employer, their challenges, and the challenging times of the year better than a former employee. You may know that January is a tough time at your former job due to an increased workload and a decrease in performance (sickness, vacations, not enough staff in general). Pitch your services late December to early January to capitalize on this need, and acknowledge how your services address those challenges.
By showing how you can alleviate some of this stress, you’ll be more likely to get business than someone who pitches during a slow time of the year. As a former employee, you’re more likely to know the slow times and the certain needs of your former employer.
Continue Networking in Your Former Field
If you’ve made a radical jump from your former job to your new freelancing business, you may think you don’t need to belong to your former industry’s networking groups. Wrong! Unless you absolutely you hated your old field, you should continue to be a member and attend networking events in that field regularly.
Use these networking events to highlight your previous experience in the field and discuss your new business. If you’ve been freelancing for your former employer, mention the value you’ve added to the company and see if there’s an opportunity to do similar work for another employer.
This advice works for people who left companies or freelance jobs. While your former colleagues may not be able to use your services, they likely know people who can. By staying in touch with former colleagues, you can stay informed of industry changes, who’s leaving the company, and what needs are going unmet. Plus, former colleagues will think of you first over someone else because you’ve made the effort to keep in touch.
The majority of these recommendations assume you’ve left your job on good terms. If you left abruptly, or were treated poorly when you gave your notice, you may not want to work with your former employer. Evaluate your relationship carefully before working with any former colleagues, too. Some former colleagues may expect you to work at a discount indefinitely because you are considered a “friend” rather than a professional.
By reaching out to people in your former job, you’ve reduced the amount of workload on yourself for a potentially greater payout. You already have established relationships with former colleagues, you have credibility in the field, and people know your work ethic. Rather than starting from scratch with a new client you know nothing about, consider pitching to your former employer and colleagues to create more opportunities for your business.
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When you started freelancing, did you reach out to former colleagues or employers? Would you consider pitching your services to a former employer or colleague?