I like the way you define the difference between the two approaches, Laura. I think I’ve been both at different times. There’s also the proactive freelancer who becomes complacent when the work flows in and takes a passive approach – that can lead to the same negative consequences you outline at the start. Food for thought …
A Tale of Two Freelancers, Which One Are You?
Each approach has its own unique challenges, drawbacks, and benefits.
In this post, I’ll be profiling two different approaches to freelancing and discussing the challenges, drawbacks, and benefits of each approach.
Are You a Passive or a Proactive Freelancer?
Two basic approaches to freelancing include:
- Passive freelancing
- Proactive freelancing
(Of course, there are other approaches–but those are the approaches we’ll focus on in this post.)
A passive freelancer is one who basically lets the clients direct his or her freelancing activities. This freelancer’s approach to marketing is to simply get his or her name out there and wait for clients to call. When the client does call, the passive freelancer usually lets the client dictate the terms of the freelance agreement. The client sets the price and determines the deadline.
In contrast, a proactive freelancer actively recruits clients. Their approach to marketing includes targeting clients who fit the profile of their ideal client and making cold calls. When the proactive client enters into a freelancing agreement, he or she actively negotiates the terms. The proactive client is also more likely to have a product.
Challenges and Benefits of Passive Freelancing
Passive freelancing comes with several challenges and drawbacks, including:
- Famine periods–Since the passive freelancer relies on clients to come to him or her, they are more likely to experience extended periods without work (the so-called “famine” of the feast or famine cycle).
- Loss of control–A passive freelancer has less control over his or her income and schedule since he or she lets the client determine the terms of his or her freelancing agreements.
- Lower income–Along with increased famine periods and loss of control comes a lower income. The passive freelancer is likely to earn less money.
Surprisingly, there may also be a few benefits to passive freelancing:
- Requires less marketing effort–The passive freelancer spends less time on marketing his or her freelancing business. He or she may have a website and a social media presence, but that is probably all.
- More spent on core skill–Since a passive freelancer spends less time on marketing, they may have more time to spend on their core skill (writing, designing, translating, programming, and so on).
- May be better suited to part-time freelancers–Because of the reduced marketing effort, passive freelancing may be all that a part-time freelancer (who likely has another income source) needs.
Challenges and Benefits of Proactive Freelancing
Just like passive freelancing, proactive freelancing also has its challenges, drawbacks, and benefits. Here are some of them:
- Difficult for shy freelancers–Shy freelancers, in particular, have a hard time making cold calls. In addition, many freelancers don’t really know how to sell.
- More rejection–A proactive freelancer generally faces more rejection, at least initially. After all, they are contacting companies that may not have even thought about hiring a freelancer.
- More effort required–Proactive freelancing takes more effort. In fact, a proactive freelancer may spend up to half of his or her time on marketing activities.
Naturally, proactive freelancing has some benefits:
- Less famine–Since a proactive freelancer is actively recruiting clients, they are less likely to experience the “famine” of the feast or famine cycle.
- More control–A proactive freelancer determines who his or her client will be. They also are actively engaged in determining rate and schedule.
- Greater income–Because proactive freelancers are more likely to work at a higher rate and because they seek out clients, they typically earn more than their more passive counterparts.
Moving from a Passive to a Proactive Approach
Most freelancers start with a fairly passive approach to freelancing. However, after a time, many start to feel trapped in low paying gigs and/or waiting for work to come to you.
There’s good news! Even if you’ve been a passive freelancer so far, you can transition to proactive freelancing. Here are five steps to help:
- Set aside a specified amount of time each day for marketing activities. You will probably need to spend at least double the marketing time that you have been spending.
- Discover and contact companies that meet your ideal client profile. If you are not used to cold calling at first, you may want to practice your approach with a friend.
- When a prospect does contact you, don’t automatically accept the terms that they give you. Often freelancing agreements can be negotiated.
- Start replacing low paying clients with higher quality clients. If you’re a typical passive freelancer, you probably have a number of current clients that pay you less than your rate.
- Don’t forget to keep up with your marketing. A typical freelancer mistake is to stop marketing while you are working. If you want a steady stream of high quality clients, you can’t do this.
Are you a passive or proactive freelancer? Which approach do you prefer?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image by trazomfreak
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April 18th, 2012 at 1:40 pm
April 18th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
Sharon, I do agree that most freelancers lean one way or the other. It’s also true that the same freelancer can operate both ways at different times in their career.
April 18th, 2012 at 4:29 pm
What about the value of both, adjusting as appropriate? Maybe similar to your yin and yang, finding or fine tuning the balance to get a better shared perspective between you and the client. Such as, even though you might normally be a proactive freelancer, going back to passive can be a good way to let the customer feel comfortable to discuss some bigger or more engaging projects. Of course there’s always exceptions, but I guess that’s the fun part of contradictions, keeps the old certainty aspect kept in check, :).
April 19th, 2012 at 12:08 am
The proactive approach is definitely the right path to grow one’s business and yes the methodologies involved are very different.
We always stressed this advice to fellow friends who are thinking of doing this: ‘If your livelihood really depended on it, then sitting all day waiting for clients to call is a plan that’s doomed’.
I can see that your article would definitely be inspiring to all those in the business!
April 19th, 2012 at 9:28 am
Like several of you, I think the active approach is appropriate for most freelancers (with the possible exception of part-timers). However, this is a question that each freelancer needs to answer for themselves.
April 19th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
hmmmmmmm, I have a stable cadre of clients….I might be passive. But I worked my arse of shaking hands and following rabbit holes to build up to this point (basically all of January), so that was active. I might be a blend.
April 19th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
Actually, you sound mostly active to me. The tip off–”But I worked my arse of shaking hands and following rabbit holes to build up to this point.” However, many freelancers default to passive while they are busy because they forget to market themselves. You might be in that situation right now (or close to it).
April 20th, 2012 at 6:30 am
I think with lots of client and 0 marketing i will term myself as passive freelancer…I want to move on to active mode..can you please highlight the ways of marketing i need to work on….
April 21st, 2012 at 1:18 am
I prefer a social environment to cold-calling. I’ve picked the majority of my clients by just talking to people. Never underestimate the power of grocery stores and restauants between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m.
April 24th, 2012 at 8:52 am
A really good piece Laura :-)
I was fairly passive last year and quickly realised it wasn’t going to pay the bills. I’ve joined a business networking group this year which has paid off very nicely indeed and plan to attend lots more networking events throughout the year. It’s harder than sitting around waiting for a call, but a lot more interesting and far, far more lucrative.
As a part-timer passive is fine, you’re right, but if you want to earn a living you have to go out there and find the work. The only hurdle I have now is cold calling businesses. I tried a little last year and got one job, but I really don’t like it very much at all.
April 24th, 2012 at 5:06 pm
In my point if you really want to make a full-time out of something that is not there is to make some one want it and make them need it. This is where your marketing skill come at hand and must of the time works best with offline leads. Well atless for me :)
April 25th, 2012 at 5:03 pm
I would say, I have been both. Right now, passive for sure. I have even been passing on some of the jobs that land in my lap. (And doing that in a smart way is an important part of “passive” freelancing.) One benefit of being an active freelancer for so long (8 years) is that I can sometimes sit back and “coast” if that is what life requires of me. Switching between the two is what enables me to have the work/life balance that drew me to freelancing in the first place.
April 28th, 2012 at 9:31 am
I think I switch between the two, but err more on the side of passive. If i could keep up being proactive more of the time my workload would be more steady, I think.
April 29th, 2012 at 11:34 am
I would say I am still a passive freelancer, even after three years, and it’s something that I want to change. The problem is I am inherently shy. Right now, the most “active” marketing method I am using is driving traffic to my personal website. I know it’s not going to have a lot of results for now, but I am working on being more proactive and less shy.
Thanks, Laura for this post. It helped me realize that I need to stop being passive.
May 1st, 2012 at 9:41 am
I definitely have to focus on being more proactive for a longer amount of time. I tend to have “bursts” of proactivity and then become more passive. I certainly agree that being more proactive is the right way to go!
AprilMay 1st, 2012 at 1:34 pm
May 10th, 2012 at 12:01 pm
Going through a bit of a dry spell myself at the moment. I say dry; I’ve been doing bits and pieces of work over the last couple of weeks, and even have more lined up, but I’m still going through that cynical nervous stage. However, I think you’ve just got to be proactive about things – I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself – I’m constantly on the lookout for new work through sites like Elance, or on social networking, and I’m also catching up with a few blog posts and SEO which I’ve neglected a little bit of late. You’ve just got to stay positive and active. Good luck all!
October 6th, 2012 at 4:03 pm
I have been in both boats. Typically, right after I have a client, I am in the mood to be active to get more. That said, right now I am in school and so being somewhat passive helps keep an even balance in my life.
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