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    This is one of a series of contributions that provide useful insights and tips from experienced freelancers who already participate in the MedComms Workbook service. We hope you find it useful. If you make the move to freelancing then please do join us - and we wish you good luck with your venture!

    Happy clients! (...and how to have more of them)
    By Carole Manners, posted 27 February 2017

    It's an unpredictable life and definitely not for the faint-hearted or for those who thrive in a busy, sociable office environment. However, if you like being your own boss, are self-motivated and enjoy working on your own, freelancing could be for you. These days, there are more and more ways to be freelance but, in this article, I'll mainly be focusing on freelance medical writing, as this is what I know - but the principles are the same, whatever you do.

    I resigned from a successful, internationally-recognised Medical Communications company in the late 1990s for two reasons, one, to spend more time with my young children and, two, the company was re-locating to a more isolated area of the country. I did try to commute but it was impractical, being significantly further away from my children's school. If I'm honest, I was also finding it difficult to take orders from those I perceived to have less experience in medcomms than I did! Now, after almost 20 years of freelance writing, I do wonder how I was ever able to hold down an office-based job. But, no matter how prepared you are, how good you are or how up-to-date, you'll never make a success of freelancing unless you have a steady stream of clients.

    I'd like to think that the advice I'm about to pass on will be helpful to those about to take the leap into freelancing but, sometimes, you just have to make your own mistakes and experience your own successes and failures.

    Stay on good terms with the agency/company you're leaving. An easy way to try your hand at freelancing is to get a couple of months' work from your current company - offer to continue in your current role and to train up your replacement (if there is one) or to be their first port of call for projects that need to be outsourced. This will give you time to research, approach and start working with new clients without going from feast to famine.

    Decide in advance what you want to offer to clients. One of the attractions of freelancing is the ability to choose what you work on - so don't get caught in the trap of accepting everything that is directed your way. Be clear about what you want to offer, for example, do you want to travel or be mainly home-based? Which therapy areas do you want/not want to work in? Will you work with medical societies or universities? If you're a writer, would you accept project management or PR jobs? If you speak one or more foreign languages, would you accept translation work? The clearer you are about your boundaries, the more likely it is that you'll get the jobs you like. But do have a conversation with yourself about how flexible you are prepared to be - I tend to pass work in the cardiovascular arena on to fellow freelancers but, if a job came up, say, in hypertension with a new client, and it involved checking references on slides, I would probably accept it. Use your intuition and go with your gut - if you're inwardly shrieking in horror and feeling sick as a job is being described to you, probably best not to accept it.

    Marketing, marketing, marketing (make time to do it). You may be brilliant at what you do, but you need to get out there and let people know you are. Long-term, it will pay dividends. Never pass on a chance to send someone your (up-to-date) CV and always reply to emails/calls from those working or recruiting in the field. Keep a list of current, past and potential clients and jot down relevant information. Include the contact's name, position and company, what areas you worked on with them, date of previous contact, what they said to you, which therapy area they needed freelancers in, their email addresses etc. You can harness information from your own contacts, from specialised websites, such as the MedComms Workbook, from conversations with fellow freelancers (join a local freelancers group) or... well, you will probably develop great client-hunting tools of your own.

    Make life easy for your clients. Respond quickly to emails and phone calls. Stick to deadlines and budgets (for a writer, it's usually number of hours) - if you can't, let clients know as soon as possible why you think these may be unreasonable. Read briefs promptly and properly, ask questions and check all the information you need is there. If you're working on-site, you are your client's representative, so dress and respond appropriately to all those you meet. Don't treat them like your "mates".

    Recognise a "Happy Client" - one who comes back to you with repeat work, who is happy to trust your judgement on projects, and who recommends you to other people in their company. A few years ago, I had a very Happy Client - regular, ongoing work, about 10 hours/week, someone who respected my experience in that particular therapy area and any contact with them (phone or email) was an absolute pleasure. Just to muddy the water, Unknown Client came onto the scene, offering me a huge chunk of work in the same therapy area that was due to start a couple of weeks down the line. I asked Happy Client if they could match the number of hours I was being offered, as I didn't really want to leave them. "Sadly, we can't, I wish we could" replied Happy Client, so I made my decision and went to Unknown Client - what was I on? The said work from Unknown Client never materialised (they hadn't even won the pitch) but they felt guilty for booking my time, so asked me to work on a job in a therapy area I detest and I felt I had to accept it because they knew I had booked out my time to them. Unknown Client soon became Unhappy Client, as I failed to impress them with work in a therapy area I never work in and never want to work in. "A bird in the hand..." comes to mind. Hang on to Happy Clients.

    Be human and be yourself. It's hard to hear - but you will make mistakes and you will upset some clients. That's (freelance) life. Be honest about mistakes and don't try to cover up or blame someone else. If you can muster up the courage, ask for feedback on what might have gone wrong and what they would be looking for next time. As a "Veteran Freelancer", I will tell you this, there are many clients out there, at home and abroad, with hundreds of medical communications projects, so move on, consult your ever-increasing marketing list of "potentials" and find your next one.

    And, finally, if you have questions or would like to make a comment on any part of this, I'd be happy to hear from you.

    Carole Manners
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