Go Local or Go Bust: The New Freelance Landscape?

World Puzzle. Image courtesy of stock.xchng® During a recent call with a Seattle-based client, I asked if there was anything I could do to be of better service. Her response: she wanted me to arrange a trip to Seattle (at my expense) to spend some time working face-to-face with her. We never met in person because I connected with her after I moved to Denver. However, she was a referral from someone who knew my work—and me—very well.

I’ve never had any issues with this client (nor she with me) and many of my clients are based in Seattle, so her response was a surprise. None of my other Pacific Northwest-area clients have complained about the distance between us. However, a few of my contacts are people I used to work with, so my face is, well… established… with them.

Since that phone call, I’ve landed three new clients, one of which is officially an ideal company (meaning a variety and diversity of copywriting projects). The interesting factor: they are all local. The second interesting factor: they contacted me. I did not send an introductory email or make any cold calls to these businesses.

Overall, Denver has a strong commitment to supporting local businesses. One organization here has conducted a very successful Colorado Local First campaign, highlighting statistics like “every dollar you spend at a local business will recirculate [sic] at least three more times before leaving our community.” Given this sentiment, it doesn’t surprise me that my new clients are local businesses hiring local talent.

But the Seattle client has me wondering. Is local the future of freelancing? If so, what’s brought that about?

Seattle, my beloved city for nearly 14 years, has taken quite a beating in this economy. As layoffs increased and budgets were slashed, trust became pretty bruised. At least one of the biggest Seattle-area employers has also outsourced, sending jobs out of the country. Has that increased the desire to do business people you can see face-to-face?

Many of my fellow freelancers have clients across the country, so I’m certainly not declaring that it’s a “local or nothing” economy. But I wonder if we’re seeing changes. Will your location as a freelancer matter more?

I’m not the type of copywriter who conducts business only by email and charges extra for phone calls. My ideal clients are long-term, relationship-focused companies. I am fortunate to be the go-to person for copywriting as well as marketing and communications consulting for my key clients. I’m not interested in offering off-the-shelf products, like a press release template or a 10-page website package. So, I’m far more likely to attract businesses that crave putting faces to names.

What’s your experience? Are your clients local or long-distance? What’s the ratio: more long-distance or is your local client base growing? How do you feel about local clients? Does it require more in-person meetings that you’re willing to do? Please share in the comments here.

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13 thoughts on “Go Local or Go Bust: The New Freelance Landscape?

  1. @Steve ~ I always appreciate your perspective and I love your phrase “techn-connecto-mania.” Thank your comment!

    @Kristen ~ One reason I was happy to stick with Seattle clients after moving to Denver was that it reduced the requests for on-site work. I had spent so many years in a “face time” corporation that I really needed a complete break from any cube dwelling. Since I have a mix of clients, I do prefer working at home so that I can manage my work across clients. However, I’m no longer so set against on-site work.

    @Jennifer ~ I really appreciate hearing that you make a point to meet your key clients in person, regardless of location. I’m sure they really value that, too. It’s something I want to do, too. At least I’m mainly dealing with Denver, Seattle or San Francisco right now!

    @Meredith ~ Thank you for saying it so eloquently: “I think it’s possible to create relationships in various ways as long as both parties are on board and share the same commitment.” That’s it, exactly!

  2. I’ve always enjoyed having local clients because I get to meet and actually get to know them, which fosters our relationship and makes working together more fun. That said, I’ve also had a number of large clients based across the country, and that was pretty easy, too, especially with emails and conference calls. I think it’s possible to create relationships in various ways as long as both parties are on board and share the same commitment.

  3. I have many long distance clients. In fact, the majority of my work is long distance. Still, I DO make an effort to meet in person (at my expense) whenever I can. I think that face time is really invaluable. That said, I haven’t met in person several of my biggest and most loved clients.

  4. Inc. recently did an experiment where they tried out a “virtual” office situation for awhile to see how it affected productivity. From what I recall, productivity wasn’t an issue, but as Steve points out the employees commented on something being lost when their isn’t that creative kind of synergy that can take place at the office. That said, there’s plenty of offices where face-time is just that and there’s no reason you can’t be doing your job at home, in your jammies. My clients are mostly on the East coast, those clients I have worked with locally have wanted me on site. I don’t mind mixing it up.

  5. I don’t work in free-lancing, so I can’t speak directly to the issue. But my experience in general is that business relationships are richer and more effective when conducted face-to-face. The mult-sensory direct personal exchange trumps the text on the screen, the voice on the phone, or even the video experience every time. There is simply a richer opportunity to connect and form the underlying bonds that make business relationships richer and more effective. This is not new to the present environment of techn-connecto-mania. It has been a feature of both business and diplomatic landscapes since the earliest development of alternatives to the strictly personal.

    -Steve

  6. @SusanJ ~ Like you, not commuting is one of my favorite things about freelancing. More than anything, I was surprised at the request. I do plan to visit my friends in Seattle (hopefully this year), so it’s not out of the question to spend some time with the client. I had always figured if I went to Seattle, I’d make a point of at least having coffee with my clients there.

    @Susan ~ Thanks so much for sharing your experience with various types of clients. I also try to be extra responsive to the long-distance clients. You’re right: it does make sense. And I really appreciate your perspective on magazine writing client vs. copywriting clients.

    @Natalia ~ We are definitely having similar experiences! I always thought I’d continue to develop new client relationships from anywhere, really, but it seems like clients want the opportunity for an initial meeting, even if the rest of the work will be done off-site. At least you know that Miami will have some interesting companies! (I say the same about Denver.) Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  7. I’m in a very similar boat. I started my freelance career in Miami a few years ago and moved to Texas a couple of months ago. It hasn’t been a problem to maintain my relationships with my Miami clients remotely, but in terms of forming new ones (especially for copywriting clients, like Susan mentioned) being local seems to be a huge advantage.

    Although, come to think of it, I’ve always found some of my best clients at local networking events. Even when the actual work is done remotely, that initial face-to-face encounter often helps me get the job.

  8. Interesting. I live in NYC and had a client in Atlanta that seemed interested in me being there (originally from there). While he was reluctant, we always worked it out throughout the profile series I did.

    I have found writing feature articles and travel writing work is easy to land wherever I live, whereas copywriting work is easier for me to land when I’m local. Unless they are a large online presence. I have felt I need to be extra attentive and flexible when working with remote clients. I think it makes sense. A magazine or book publisher needs a large sampling of writers across the country, unless the magazine is a regional pub. Copywriting work, like you said, has more to do with crafting relationships.

    In your case, if you’re from Seattle and she knows you are, perhaps she assumes you’ll be coming back to the area sometime soon for a visit and wants to capitalize on that opportunity. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere?

  9. Great post, Jesaka! I’m surprised that she would make this kind of request, but maybe you can set up a trip when it’s convenient for you and visit some friends in the area, too? I don’t think this should be expected, but some clients do feel more comfortable after a little facetime. I had a client who’s two hours away and wanted me to commute to weekly meetings with him. I chose to cut him loose, because NOT commuting is one of my favorite parts of freelancing.

  10. @Alexandra ~ You definitely put your finger on the bartering! I’ve thought about bartering with my doctor, seeing if he’d be interested in me writing his newsletter and website in exchange for his services. He’s a fantastic doctor but, even with insurance, it adds up. Thanks so much for your comment!

    @Sheryl ~ You’re right that I’m lucky. It is a rarity and an opportunity I don’t take for granted. It’s funny how no one has time for “face time” in some areas and then, in others, work isn’t going to move forward without it.

  11. You’re lucky to live in such a supportive community where you are a go-to source. I think that’s a rarity, isn’t it? I have clients all over the map, and although many are local, no one has much time for “face time,” unfortunately. I do think that when you put a face to a name it adds a lot credibility and trust.

  12. I think you are right in perceiving this trend and thanks for reporting on it. I have heard from local sources that barter is more in vogue: a friend recently traded copywriting and production of promotional brochures for dental work, impossible to pay for otherwise …

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