A recent freelance industry report says that 30% of business comes from referrals and word of mouth, and less than 3% from social media. It's an important statistic to consider where to burn your calories to pursue more business. Recently, I tracked my business where it has come from over the last years.

I created a client family tree. More than 75% of my business over the last 20 years has come from an ongoing relationship with one smart, well-connected marketing director. She takes me with her when she makes career moves, and I usually retain business from an organization she's moved on from.

She's referred me to colleagues in various industries. I've been very, very lucky, but there are some things that I've paid close attention to that maybe other architectural illustrators might not have.

In the beginning of a relationship, whether personal or business, I often get clues as to exactly how it's going to go. It sounds a little crazy, but within the first 20 minutes of an initial meeting with a new customer, your intuition will tell you exactly what you need to know. For example, if an agency is disorganized, rushed, and indecisive, you can be assured that the project will be run that way too.

If a customer appreciates what you do, treats you with respect, and communicates with you in a calm, clears and inspirational way, they're probably going to be great to work with. So take off your emotional hat and put on one of objectivity and observation.

  • Do you trust this person?
  • Does what they do really interest you?
  • Do you respect them?
  • Are they hiring you for the reason you want to be hired?

The bottom line is doing good work for smart, well-connected clients is the best business development strategy for a freelancer. Staying away from task-oriented, anonymous, online projects will ensure the potential for more continuous meaningful business relationships.

The goal is to have clients describe you to others as a pleasure to work with.

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