How to find work: piggybacking

I’ve been doing a series on this site about the many ways to find work as a freelancer. So far I’ve covered listings, magnetism, asking, referrals, and groups.

Now on to one of the littler-known aspects of freelance success — something I call piggybacking.

One thing that’s important to understand about freelancing is that while your clients officially may be the companies that are paying you, your true clients — the ones you have to please in order to keep getting work — are individuals.

Each freelance gig comes with a contact or a group of contacts at whatever company or publication or institution you are working for. In the case of journalism, that’s your editor. In the case of content marketing, it’s usually a communications or marketing director or manager. If you’re a freelance mural painter hired by the city government to beautify the underpass, it’s whoever hired you to do your thing.

Freelancing is very much about relationships, which is partly why women tend to be naturals at it. The better the relationship you have with those you work with, the more likely they will be to hire you again … and again … and again.

And if you have that kind of relationship it also means that they are likely to carry you with them from job to job, like an amazing tool in their professional backpack.

At each new job they go to, they always hire you whenever the need for a freelancer of your kind arises. They get to have a solid go-to helper to lean on, and you get to gain exposure to new companies, topics, types of work, and other people along the way.

Piggybacking is likely to happen to you if you freelance long enough and maintain good relationships. This is because it’s surprising how hard it is to find really good freelancers. If you’re good and you make your clients’ lives easier, you’ll get loyalty from those who hire you.

I’ve been piggybacked several times with great results. A marketing director of a company I freelanced for brought me with him to his new company, which has resulted in an ongoing arrangement of monthly work.

This also happened with a contact I had at a foundation I wrote for; she eventually went on to become the interim executive director of another organization and hired me to do some work there too. One editor I have at a trade magazine has brought me to several other trade magazines she edits.

It’s difficult to engineer this kind of job-finding, but there are things you can do to make it more likely.

First of all, you can be a good freelancer that people want to hire. Good freelancers are professional, turn in good work on time, and work to make clients’ lives easier. When they can’t or don’t do so after promising as much, they apologize and explain.

Second thing you can do is always remind people to bring you along. Whenever a contact of mine sends that classic “I’ve loved working here but I’m on to new things!” email, I make it a habit of writing back with well wishes and a note that I’d love for them to keep me in mind.

If you’re lucky, you’ll ride that person’s coattails from one great gig to the next, without having to send a single prospecting email or gig application.

In freelancing, that’s worth a lot.

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